In Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary, four days had passed by the time the 11 mud-cloaked elephants were rescued from a large bomb crater where they were trapped.
The rescue came after local villagers found the stranded herd and contacted the environment department in Mondulkiri province, who alerted the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).
The elephants were likely walking along a path to drink at a nearby creek when one or more juveniles fell into the crater. As other members of the family came to the rescue, they in turn became stuck in the mud.
Keo Sopheak, head of the Mondulkiri Environment Department, said locals pumped water into the crater and dug with their hands to free the elephants, who were submerged up to their shoulders.
A slope was dug into the crater and tree branches laid to allow the elephants to climb out once they had been freed.
The rescuers offered sugar cane, bamboo leaves and bananas to the elephants after they were freed, a move that the WCS said should never be attempted with wild elephants.
Tan Setha of the WCS said the rescue had prevented a great loss of Cambodia’s ecosystem.
“If the community had not come together with the Wildlife Conservation Society, Elephant Livelihood Initiative Environment (E.L.I.E) and the Department of Environment, to rescue these 11 Asian Elephants, this would have been a tragedy,” he said.
Ross Sinclair, WCS country director, said: “This is a great example of everyone working together in Cambodia to save wildlife.”
“Too often the stories around conservation are about conflict and failure, but this is one about cooperation and success. That the last elephant to be rescued needed everyone to pull together on a rope to drag it to safety is symbolic of how we have to work together for conservation”, he added.
Rapid agricultural development, endemic corruption and a booming population has led to increasing threats against wildlife in Cambodia’s protected areas.
Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary is one of Cambodia’s flagship protected areas. Not only does it contain a regionally important population of Asian elephants, and local indigenous communities dependent on the area for their livelihoods, but also was the first successful demonstration of the Reduced Emission from Deforestation and Degradation conservation financing model in the country, WCS told VOA in an email.
Sopheak of the environment department said that the government is stepping up its protection efforts in the sanctuary by way of selling carbon credits to The Walt Disney Company.
“Currently, the government is reinforcing the protection of Seima sanctuary because these days the government is selling carbon which they called “REDD+” to Disney, a company in America. So the government takes a step in preventing further forest clearance.”