Eleven wild elephants were rescued on Saturday in Mondulkiri’s Keo Seima protected area after becoming trapped in a former bomb crater without food for four days, though rangers will continue to monitor the herd to ensure it reaccepts one juvenile who was handled by humans during the rescue.
Olly Griffin, a technical advisor with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), said the operation was a “big team effort” between civil society groups, government authorities and local villagers.
“A large part of the credit goes to the local people from the area, who showed concern and compassion for the plight of the elephants,” Griffin said yesterday.
The 3-metre-deep bomb crater had been repurposed as a water storage pond, and Griffin said the elephants may have been seeking water when they became trapped.
Keo Sopheak, director of the province’s environmental department, said the walls of the pit were too steep for the elephants to climb out of, and as the water began to dry, they became mired in the mud.
“After we watered them, some villagers helped cut bamboo leaves for them to eat because they do not have food for four days. We dug out the sides of the pit and placed wood planks for them to walk on,” said Sopheak.
WCS supplied equipment likes ropes and digging tools, which allowed 10 of the 11 elephants to successfully exit on their own.
One young elephant, however, was too weak to leave unassisted. Griffin explained that as the sun began to set and the pit began to fill with rainwater, rescuers made the difficult decision to tie a rope to the young elephant and forcibly pull it out of the pit.
“The mother may abandon the elephant,” Griffin said, noting that the herd may be spooked if the youngster smells like humans.
“It ran off in the same direction as the rest of the herd … We will send some rangers to observe whether or not he is accepted.”
Yan Socheat, one of village rescuers, said locals were aware that there were elephants in the area for about a week, but didn’t realise they were in trouble.
Video footage shows rescuers pulling out the young elephant, who subsequently tramples one of his liberators as he flees. Socheat said the rescuer was stunned, but uninjured.
Additional reporting by Andrew Nachemson