24 Jun Baby Turtles, Freaky Dolphins and Elephant Selfies
Written by the 2014 Southeast Asia: Animal Conservation team
Last you heard from us we were about to board a night bus from Chiang Mai that ultimately brought us into the Kingdom of Cambodia. Since then we have gotten a big taste of what this little country has to offer. Cambodia is amazing, challenging, depressing, inspiring, frustrating and beautiful – a first or second home to many OG’ers!
After the grueling bus ride from Chiang Mai, we spent two days in Battambang, a lively city relatively close to the Thai border that offers a chilled out introduction to Cambodia. The first night we arrived we watched the award winning documentary “Enemies of the People” which provided much insight into Cambodia’s tragic Khmer Rouge period. The following day we took a scenic tuk tuk ride to Battambang’s famous bat caves where we witnessed millions of bats streaming out of a cave for their nightly feeding frenzy on the Tonle Sap Lake. To top off the day we enjoyed a circus performance put on by youth of Phare Ponleu Selpak – an NGO that provides Cambodian kids the opportunity to learn performing arts. Man, are they ever acrobatic!
After Battambang we headed to Cambodia’s bustling capital Phnom Penh where we visited the killing fields and S-21 prison; two important national sites that serve as a reminder and reflective space for the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge regime from 1975 to 1978. After a heavy day visiting these sites, all of us went to watch Maleficent. One thing even Jess and I didn’t know about Cambodia – the movie theaters are freezing cold! Better bring sweaters and blankets next time …
Phnom Penh can feel a bit hectic and overwhelming at times, something we managed to shake off when we arrived in the sleepy town of Kratie; located scenically on the banks of the Mekong in eastern Cambodia. There we participated in the release of baby turtles, an experience offered by the Mekong Turtle Conservation Centre (MTCC). MTCC works for the conservation of the endangered Cantor Soft-shell Turtle, a species native to Cambodia.
The center provides a space where hatchlings can be cared for by trained volunteers in preparation for their release back into the wild. The center also works with surrounding communities to promote the need for conservation. We visited the center, picked up the turtles, had them blessed by monks and joined many community members in their release back into the Mekong! A Cambodian TV station was there and Iris was interviewed! Keep an eye out in the Cambodia news ;). Besides releasing the turtles, we also went on a boat ride to see the highly endangered Irrawady River dolphins swimming in the Mekong.
From baby turtles and freaky looking dolphins we moved on to visit yet another endangered species – the Asian elephant! After a brisk bus ride from Kratie to Sen Monorom, we spent 4 days volunteering at the Elephant Valley Project (EVP).
EVP is Mondulkiri Province’s only elephant sanctuary where 8 elephants are resident and able to live out their lives in their natural habitat. The Elephant Valley Project is a not for profit enterprise run by ELIE, a Cambodian NGO tasked with helping the captive elephant population of Mondulkiri and the Indigenous Bunong Population.
We got down and dirty (very dirty) clearing weeds in a bamboo field and helping in the construction of a dam to create a bathing area for the mud-loving elephants. And of course we spent plenty of time learning about each elephant and watching their daily routine. We had the rare opportunity to feed one of the elephants – named Onion – since she has a tooth problem and needs to be given fruit and lemongrass to supplement her diet. Oh and we took plenty of selfies with the elephants!
On the last day of the project we ate pizza and prepared ourselves for Independent Travel Time (ITT). 9 out of 12 of us are currently in Siem Reap to visit the largest archaeological site in the world – Angkor. Most of the girls will head down to the south of Thailand after some R n R while Iris and Zoe are heading back to northern Thailand to chill out in Pai. Giana is flying to Australia (probably the record for the furthest ITT venture in OG history) to visit a friend and will then check out Singapore. Rong is flying to China to visit some family. We meet again for Disorientation in Amphawa, Thailand, on July 1st!
Till then, samnang la’ore (good luck!)!
The SEA Animal Conservation Team