Get to know our Beneficiary Organization: Elephant Livelihood Initiative Environment (E.L.I.E.)
We were able to hold a virtual interview with Jemma Bullock, the program manager at E.L.I.E., to learn more about the organization, how ELIE helps and interacts with the community in Cambodia, and the impact of COVID-19 on their daily life and future plans. Read on to learn more about this incredible organization protecting and rehabilitating elephants in Cambodia.
1. What are the fundamental values and beliefs of Elephant Livelihood Initiative Environment?
Our NGO ELIE Elephant Livelihood Initiative Environment (E.L.I.E.) is a registered local non-government organization based in Mondulkiri, Cambodia. ELIE aims to improve the health and welfare of the captive elephants in Mondulkiri Province, work to conserve the wild elephants’ natural habitat, and support the local people who work with these magnificent creatures. ELIE was founded in 2006 and started by providing veterinarian care and mahout-orientated education to the families and communities that owned captive elephants throughout Mondulkiri province. E.L.I.E runs a number of programs and projects in Mondulkiri to help achieve our goals, including an elephant research and monitoring program, a mobile veterinarian program an indigenous community-based organization assistance program, and an ecotourism project that provides an alternative approach to elephant care, rehabilitation, and conservation (The Elephant Valley Project).
“To improve the captive elephant’s health and welfare situation by the development of an elephant sanctuary while providing province-wide veterinary care and associated social support programs for the Bunong people.”
- To improve the health and welfare conditions of the captive elephant population of Mondulkiri
- To develop a sanctuary for working elephants to rest and retire to in Mondulkiri Province
- To conserve the wild elephants’ natural habitat
- To provide employment and job-based training to the Bunong community and mahouts
- To support the local community to protect their forest and natural resources, the habitat of the elephants.
- To identify the main pressures on the community and their forest, and provide community support programs to alleviate these pressures.
2. What would make the greatest difference in helping your organization get better at what it does?
Basically, it all comes down to funding. What would enable us to achieve more of our goals is diversified funding models, outside of a reliance on tourism funds, which is something we have discovered due to Covid and something we are now working on. We are looking to develop alternative community-based agriculture programs and also alternative grants and funding streams. We don’t have dedicated people to do fundraising, marketing, and grant writing, relying on our already depleted management team, particularly this year. So one of the biggest differences would be to have access to grant writing and fundraising teams that could help progress the model of ELIE.
3. What is the Elephant Valley Project?
In 2007, the Elephant Valley Project was launched as an elephant sanctuary developed to create a home for injured and overworked elephants and is now ELIE’s centerpiece for elephant conservation, which is located within Putrom’s community land. ELIE is unique in terms of its primary source of funding, which comes directly from donations made by local and international visitors to the EVP. Since 2006 the NGO has evolved and grown, with the development of the EVP as a tourist attraction, providing a sustainable financing mechanism for funding all ELIE programs. A true work in progress, the Elephant Valley Project has become the central location for ELIE’s work in Mondulkiri.
The Elephant Valley Project is a sanctuary set up for elephant care, local employment and is an ecotourism site for international and local visitors.
The main aims of the Elephant Valley Project are to:
- Provide an alternative approach to elephant care in their natural environment
- Offer options for local families to bring their elephants to the sanctuary for rest and recuperation. In exchange, their owners can receive monthly compensation, preferential working conditions, and world-class elephant care
- Retire and rehabilitate working elephants
- Provide employment for local people, good working conditions, and assistance in the protection of their land and resources
- Have visitors who get to spend time observing these elephants in their natural habitat. Their donations then support the running of the sanctuary and all other programs of ELIE
- The Elephant Valley is 1,500 hectares of natural elephant habitat that is surrounded by farms and protected forests. It allows us to simulate the same environment that mahouts look after and care for their elephants while providing a large area of forest for elephants to escape human activity for the longest period of time possible during the day. We are lucky that we can combine the support of volunteers and tourists, which in turn allows us to realize our aims.
Current facilities and projects at EVP:
- Ecotourism facilities for volunteers and visitors including four self-contained bungalows, a big backpacker bungalow, a group house, lounge room, dining room, and kitchen.
- Mahout house and accommodation for the villagers that live on-site
- Elephant Clinic & Target Training area
- Elephant Food Farms – supplementary food and emergency elephant grass supplies
- Elephant Forest – seed collection and replanting the elephant forest with elephant edible plants and trees.
- Endangered plant reforestation project – seedling nursery for reforestation of logged forest and old farmland
4. Can you tell us more about your core program types?
Our core programs are Elephant Conservation and Rehabilitation, and then our Community Support Program. Ecotourism activities and the funding it brings is a way to help achieve the main goals of the elephant and community programs.
The Elephant Valley Project – The Elephant Valley Project (EVP) is a sanctuary set up for elephant care, local employment and is an ecotourism site for international and local visitors.
Elephant Rehabilitation & Monitoring Project
Elephant Monitoring & Health Check –Trained staff visit communities around Mondulkiri that require vet assistants for their elephants. A veterinarian from the Agriculture department works with our team two days per week and is also available when needed. A database of all captive elephants, their owners, and condition is also updated regularly.
Elephant Rehabilitation – Elephants can come to the sanctuary on three programs for rehabilitation: short-term rest and recuperation programs, long-term compensation programs, and retirement programs. Families come with their elephants to look after them, or mahouts are sourced and trained from the local community of Putrom, also creating more local employment.
Wild Elephant & Forest Protection Project (Natural Resource Protection)
There are an estimated 140 wild elephants in the Keo Siema Wildlife Sanctuary that borders the EVP, and to help protect the species these wild elephants are the key! Working directly with the Department of Environment and the Wildlife Conservation Society, ELIE supports teams of local rangers, and forest police to patrol this protected forest and the local community area around the EVP.
Community Land Titling Project – Helping the community to secure their land for future generations is crucial for not only the community but also to ensure protection of their forests and resources. Completed in 2016.
Community Health Care Project – Healthcare is one of the biggest costs for many people across Cambodia, which then puts pressure on the forest or elephants to pay for this. ELIE provides universal health care coverage to the community members surrounding EVP, as well elephant owners and their families across Mondulkiri. This totals 2,000 + people and is our biggest funding channel.
School Scholarship Project – Primarily providing scholarship support for students from Putrom Village to attend high school in the provincial capital, Sen Monorom. Support packs are also provided to the primary school students in all three Putrom villages.
Community Development Project – Providing support for smaller one-off projects to the most vulnerable members of the community for example housing support for poor families or protection and boundary marking of sacred sites such as grave and spirit forest.
5. Can you share one or two success stories that have happened because of the work that ELIE has completed?
We have changed the face of elephant tourism here in Cambodia. Pioneered as an alternative to the detrimental impact of elephant riding seen in the tourism industry, the EVP works closely with the Bunong indigenous communities of Mondulkiri, the owners of elephants and their families to offer a different approach to the care of their elephants within a natural environment. We have seen more and more companies and guides offering tours walking alongside elephants and new projects opening offering owners rent for their elephants on a monthly basis, increasing the welfare and care for more and more elephants across Cambodia. As of 2019, there was basically no elephant riding left in the region. We hope that this positive trend continues and is not impacted by the change in the tourism market due to Covid.
The community has successfully mapped their traditional lands and applied for and achieved the legal rights to their indegienous land, in the form of an Indigenous Land Title. We are then able to use this community land and their forest for the elephants to live, providing further benefits to the community
6. What are you hoping to achieve in response to COVID-19?
With the drop in tourism numbers and income due to the pandemic, it is clear that ELIE and the EVP need to diversify income streams to enable the continuation of the programs we are operating. This realization is also true within the communities we partner with, exhibiting a severe need to explore new opportunities for income generation and adaptation of current traditional ecological practices and knowledge to plan better for the future.
First and foremost, our goal is to sustain and bolster ELIE’s innovative elephant welfare, community support, and forest protection programs already in place. The loss in income from wildlife-based tourism programs due to COVID-19 has severely impacted our organization’s fiscal and staff capacity to continue these successful programs. With the overall goal of these programs already to support long-term care for the elephants, vet outreach programs, and to create resiliency, well-being, and sustainability within the communities we work, bolstering these programs with the funds from donors, while the tourism industry recovers is critical moving ahead.
7. What are your most urgent needs to support communities impacted by coronavirus?
With international tourism having ground to a halt in Cambodia and sporadic lockdowns put in place, our traditional source of revenue from tourism has all but ceased. Continuing our commitment to the elephants at the EVP site and the Mondulkiri region, ELIE’s staff and work within the community remains paramount but extremely difficult to undertake at this current moment in time due to funding and staff shortages. The need for financial funding to continue programs such as ELIE’s mobile vet unit is paramount in order to give access to free veterinarian care for Mondulkiri’s last few remaining captive elephants.
Basically, it all comes down to funding.
8. How do you think the COVID-19 pandemic will shape Elephant Livelihood Initiative Environment and your programs?
Whilst it is still unknown as to what overall effect the Covid-19 pandemic will have on ELIE since Cambodia is still in the midst of the pandemic. We do know that we have survived this long into it and whilst the prospect of closing down always hangs over us, it has made the organization more resilient and resourceful in terms of our funding structure and expenses.
Sanctuaries and conservation projects all over the world, similar to ELIE and the Elephant Valley Project Cambodia, have been feeling dramatic cuts in funding from the effects of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. This is going to have long-term impacts on the animals, forest, and community throughout Asia, with increased poaching, forest clearing, and land sales being seen due to funding shortages for forest protection. Captive elephants across Asia are being impacted by camps closing, owners struggling to find food for their elephants, and sanctuaries themselves are also struggling for funding for the care of their elephants.
The crisis we now face due to this pandemic, are extreme and challenging. Undoubtedly, this will not be the last crisis our organization and the local communities we work with will meet. As Cambodia continues to experience rapid deforestation and biodiversity loss, unfortunately, further crisis locally and globally may become a reality if we do not adapt and stay focused on the work needed. Our goal and vision will always be elephant and community-focused as we believe the two are intrinsically linked. Mitigating human-elephant conflict, climate change, deforestation, and land encroachment are all issues that are likely to escalate in the coming years. We hope through donations, grants, and other funding sources; we can support the Bunong people and their elephants in surviving this current period, while also finding new community-based solutions for a resilient and sustainable elephant and community support programs.
We enjoyed learning more about ELIE, their goals, and the impact that they have in their community. Learn more about their current projects and their mission by visiting their partner page.