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Newborn elephant in Ratanakkiri brings Christmas joy to conservationists

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Chenda Clais poses for a picture with the baby elephant Noel, born in Balung Town in Ratanakkiri province on December 26. CHENDA CLAIS FACEBOOK

Newborn elephant in Ratanakkiri brings Christmas joy to conservationists

A female domesticated elephant under the care of the Airavata Khmer Elephant Foundation gave birth to a calf on December 26 – known as “Boxing Day” in some parts of the world – in Ratanakkiri province, bringing Christmas joy to the wildlife conservation community and Ministry of Environment officials.

Chenda Clais, president of the foundation, told The Post on December 27 that one of the four domesticated elephants in the organisation’s care gave birth to the calf at 5am.

“We named this female baby elephant Noel because it was born one day after Christmas. Noel’s mother was 21 months pregnant and just gave birth to her.”

According to Chenda, the four elephants were originally from the province’s Lumphat and Bakeo districts.

Chenda said the foundation has a number of partners that help them with their elephant programme, including donors from the private sector, professional associations, civil society organisations and the environment ministry along with the ministries of Information; Tourism; Culture and Fine Arts; and Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

“Our foundation has additional needs in order to bring about the successful conservation of elephants in Cambodia. We need young females to breed so that the number of domestic elephants can increase, for instance. We also urgently need more funds to carry out elephant conservation activities in our country, because elephant conservation requires a lot of money,” she said.

Environment ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra said there were between 400-600 wild elephants living in the forests in the protected areas and around 100 more domesticated elephants living in captivity in the Kingdom, including the new calf.

Most elephants in Cambodia live in protected areas in the Cardamom Mountains and in eastern provinces such as Ratanakkiri and Mondulkiri.

“The baby elephant was born at the Airavata Khmer Elephant Foundation, which the environment ministry supports financially through the sale of carbon credits. All of the proceeds from carbon credits are used to pay for conservation of natural resources, including this foundation’s elephants,” he said.

Pheaktra said the conservation of elephants is an important part of the ministry’s work because it is precisely this type of “charismatic” species of wildlife that can attract eco-tourism, which can then fund the conservation of Cambodia’s other rare species and environment generally.

“The sale of carbon credits also funds the provision of equipment to the forest rangers and additional support for them as well as the strengthening and development of rural communities and natural protected area communities,” he added.

Separately, at least 1,000 people have now donated more than $3,000 in cash to the “one dollar for elephants” campaign that seeks to raise funds for needy villagers and elephants in the Kulen Mountain area, which lost most of their income due to the lapse in tourism from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Earlier this month, a group of students launched the one-month fund raising campaign under the slogan “Donate a dollar to make elephants smile” for the conservation of elephants in the foothills of Kulen Mountain and to help solve villagers’ livelihood problems in the area after they were affected by the lack of tourists.

The elephant conservation area in the Kulen Mountains in Bos Thom village of Sotr Nikum district’s Khnar Por commune was established in late 2019 after 13 elephants were ordered into the care of a conservation programme.

The elephants were previously being cared for by community members who ran businesses and used them to carry tourists on sightseeing trips, an activity that is no longer permitted in Cambodia.

Samrong Hoksrun, the leader of the group of seven students who initiated the campaign, told The Post on December 27 that it would finish in early January and all funds raised would be provided directly to the organisation caring for the elephants on January 19.

He said that since the campaign began, more than a thousand people have donated over $3,000 and he expects it to rise as the campaign heads toward its conclusion.

David Jaya-Piot, co-founder of the elephant conservation park at Kulen Mountain, told The Post that the goal of collecting the elephants was to give them a better life where they are free to live naturally and are not forced to work or carry tourists.

He said that after the project was launched, the pandemic also began and that has affected the stability and livelihoods of the community as well as the lives of the elephants because both the community and the programme caring for the animals rely on tourism primarily for their funding.

He said there are 13 elephants in the protected area which need to eat at least 200 to 300kg of food per day each. He expressed his deep gratitude to the students for their campaign to raise donations for the elephants and community, saying their actions were setting a great example to follow for all Cambodians who wish to help with nature conservation.

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