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Ups and downs of life with an elephant

PACHADERM driver Kroeuk is the proud owner of a 50-year-old elephant called Koy.

He says: "Koy sometimes turns wild with strangers, but he listens to me,

he is a good elephant."

The 25-year-old father of three says he learnt to

ride the elephant which was inherited by his parents when he was 15.

The

family are members of the Phnong ethnic minority, Mondolkiri province.

"I'm happy to be a Mahout, but the problem is the seat of my trousers is

easily torn out."

Kroeuk turns around and shows me patches on the seat

of his trousers. He then enthusiastically begins to tell me the story of his

elephant.

"One day Koy fell in love and did not want to eat anything. He

only slept and played with his girlfriend. He could not work when he did not

eat"

Kroeuk adds in an annoyed tone: "We had to arrange a wedding

ceremony for him and then get people to pray for jungle spirits to come and wake

up his mind. Looking after an elephant is more difficult than looking after a

human being."

But Kroeuk says he is very fortunate to have the elephant

as he helps earn his family a living.

He said: "I can make 40,000 riel a

day by using Koy to carry goods."

The main occupation of hill-tribesmen

such as the Phnong is rice farming based on slash-and-burn agriculture.

Villages are moved from one place to another every four or five years

when the soil is considered less productive for the crop.

Raising

livestock and hunting are only subsidiary activities.

Kroeuk says:

"After the rice season we do nothing. Without Koy life would be more difficult,

we would probably just sleep and eat rice until the next season

comes."

Governor Ho Sok says poor health is one of the many problems

facing Mondolkiri residents.

He said that out of 900 people who underwent

blood tests more than 800 were found to have contracted malaria.

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