Dancing with the Elephants

Many indigenous villages are taking their elephants out of “production”, retiring them and setting up tourist experiences.  They bring tourists to their villages, they get to touch, feed, photograph at close hand, walk with and bath the elephants.  No riding allowed or involved. The elephants roam free, and the villages are regenerating their forests as opposed to cutting them.  It brings more money to the villages (if done well) and provides a sustainable income stream as opposed to the massive deforestation that is happening in Cambodia.  Slowly, a conservation movement is trying to take hold in Cambodia and much of it is grass roots as opposed to foreigners setting them up to “help” the locals.  They have a very different feel and are not as refined, but are real.

Mekong our first up-close-and-personal encounter with an Asian elephant.

Chipper let us get much closer and we got more comfortable. This is not with a long lens.

So, yesterday we played with the elephants!  We were picked up from our hotel in a very clapped out van and taken to the side of the road here we hiked down into a valley.  Along the way we met our first elephant, Mekom.  She came up the hill (with her mahout).  We were so excited.  She was a bit shy, but we all took pictures of her and with her and give her a bit of petting.  We also fed her a bunch of bananas and sugar cane we had been carrying.  I don’t remember how much they eat, but it is a lot.  They take 12 inch long sticks of cane, 3 at a time and crunch, crunch, they are gone.

Jim giving Chipper a snack. 3 sticks at a time seemed to be good.

They just roll up their trunk and crunch away on the cane. It take only a couple minutes to eat six or eight 12″ sticks.  This is Chipper again.

After lunch in the Benong village for this project, we met Chipper.  She is also a female.  I don’t quite get the story, but Chipper had been at a party with the villagers and everyone was a bit hung over… the people not the elephant.  The kill pigs which they eat, but have to put blood on the elephant for good luck…. Or something like that????   Chipper was more gregarious than Mekom and she came to the river for a bath after her meal of cane.

Chipper on here way to her bath. The grass was tall and there is something disconcerting about a big elephant heading directly towards you. She was on a mission and was not going to stop just because I was in her path.

Ahhhh, a portrait with Chipper.

Heading down to the watering hole.


On our way out following a different path we met up with Sterth, a huge male.  I didn’t realize Asian elephants were this big.  He was a very friendly elephant, young at 32 and a bit…. amorous.  His skin seemed much softer than the ladies.  Don’t know if it was his age, or what, but he was much softer to the tough.

Sterth was very friendly but rather intimidating as he would just come to you and was so big.

This was not taken as a funny angle to show the size of Sterth. Male Asian elephants are big.

Sterth was a happy guy.

A very cool and relaxing day with the elephants.  On the way back in the van, we stopped at a different Benong village to pick up some hikers we’d dropped off that morning.

The water buffalo can be quite mean. We were told not to get too close.

The baby pigs on the other hand were so cute and did not mind being touched.

Had a chance to see some of the local live stock, interact a bit with the people and finally, we got a close look at one of the “logging” motorcycles.  This guy was happy to show us his bike , let Jim sit on it and insisted he (the owner) demo ride it for us (if we’d had time I’m sure Jim could have ridden it as well.)  Pretty amazing bikes with double shocks front and back and a swing arm made of welded rebar…

A proud motorcycle owner. These bikes carry a heavy load of wood.

Lots of confusion continues for us in that we got a very different sense and story from the 3 Benong villages we visited regarding prosperity, how they deal with the environment, support (or lack there of) from the government and maintaining their culture.  Clearly these people all struggle with how to move forward in a modern society and retain their lives.  Some seem to be managing more successfully than others.  Cambodia is moving forward quickly and their resources are being exploited but it is not clear many of the people feel in control of their destiny nor happy with the situation.

Two beautiful girls in the village where we met Chipper the elephant. They were sitting on a big empty water tank and the three of us did a little drum work.

We saw these folks in our 3rd Benong village.

Another Benong boy from the 3rd village.


Dancing with the Elephants — 2 Comments

  1. I also watched the video through FB of the Chipper getting a drink and getting in the water. Did she ever squirt water on herself?