Cambodia shares some good news with the world – wild elephants have returned to one of the forest conservation sites in the country.

At the Cardamom Tented Camp, forest rangers discovered and photographed elephant footprints and droppings within the area’s 18,000ha forest concession which the camp protects, with help from Wildlife Alliance and the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation (GTAEF).

“From the size of the dung and the number of footprints, it seems that this is a herd of nine elephants comprising four adult females, their calves and one juvenile,” said John Roberts of GTAEF in a statement. GTAEF has been fully funding the ranger efforts since Covid-19 shut down tourism across the globe.

“They have also been camera-trapped and seen in the area south of our concession.”

The Cardamom Tented Camp is an ecolodge located in the foothills of Cambodia’s Cardamom Mountains. The lodge aims to minimise human footprint on the natural world, and to serve as a role model in promoting sustainable ecotourism practices within the national park, Cambodia and across Asia.

The lodge and its surroundings are home to pristine lowland and coastal habitats linking wildlife corridors to the Cardamom Mountains. Apart from its nine safari lodges, the camp also offers eco-friendly trekking and kayaking activities to guests.

However, international tourists make up a bulk of the lodge’s clientele, and since the pandemic began, Cardamom Tented Camp has been closed to guests.

Meanwhile, in neighbouring areas outside the camp’s protected zone, you can find rubber plantations and the construction of a deep sea water port, as well as a hotel and airport. This, according to rangers, may be a reason why the elephants have returned to the conservation site after a five-year absence.

Forest rangers at the Cardamom Tented Camp in Cambodia have sighted the return of a small herd of elephants to its area. THE STAR

“There is human traffic and a non-ideal environment all around us,” said Roberts. “But whether the elephants are on a long migration or looking for a new home we are pleased to welcome them to our forests and grasslands. It’s an environment they prefer. It comes with zero harassment.”

Lodge manager Allan Michaud, who happens to be a wildlife photographer and conservationist, said that a group of Smooth-Coated Otters have also returned to the Preak Tachan river beside the camp.

“There are around 15 to 18 of them, ranging over 20km of river, with the camp being pretty much at the centre of their territory,” said Michaud in the same statement from Cardamom Tented Camp.

The statement noted that guests often see otters, macaque monkeys, kingfishers and hornbills from their boat when they travel to the camp, which is only accessible by river.

During the downtime caused by the pandemic, the camp created a new 4km trail, which is a continuation of an existing one.

The camp is back in business currently, and it operates with a unique business model: Part of the income goes towards the funding of 12 forest rangers who protect the area from loggers, poachers and river sandbank dredgers.

Meanwhile, in northern Thailand, another elephant camp invites guests to stay in a bubble, literally. The Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp & Resort features unique transparent rooms that are shaped like bubbles. Guests who spend the night in these Jungle Bubbles get to observe majestic elephants and other creatures in their natural habitat.

There is also the Bubble Lodge, which fits a small family or group of friends.

The resort is popular for its elephant camp and also works with GTAEF. Together, they set up the camp in 2003 primarily to help street begging elephants and other injured elephants that are no longer able to help themselves in the wild. More than 20 elephants live in the jungle environment of the resort along with their entire mahout (carer) families.

GTAEF has introduced appropriate experiences that are designed to allow the elephant caretakers to raise the funds they need to look after their elephants without forcing them into activities they might not enjoy.