Deep in the heart of Cambodia’s rich history lies an extraordinary bond between its people and the majestic elephants that once roamed widely across its lands. For centuries, these gentle giants held a sacred place in Cambodian culture, symbolising strength, wisdom, and resilience.

To honour this valued connection and secure a sustainable future for these remarkable creatures, the Airavata Elephant Foundation will play host to the ‘5th Charity Gala’ at Phnom Penh’s Sun and Moon Hotel on August 18, with the goal of raising funds for the welfare of the four elephants under its care.

“The gala aims to support the association’s efforts in developing ecotourism and preserving our Khmer cultural heritage,” Clais Chenda, president of the foundation, told The Post.

Through a captivating event, she intends to rally support and ignite a movement for a sustainable future.

Despite the end of Covid-19 travel restrictions, its impact continues to affect the foundation’s income, as the number of tourists visiting Chenda’s hotels, which contribute to the foundation, remain small.

“We are lucky to have partnerships and relationships with private companies as well as state institutions – such as the Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Information – who continue to support us,” said Chenda.

The proceeds from the event will be used to provide care for two male, one female and one baby elephant. Additionally, funds will support the development of ecotourism.

“We will allocate about 20 to 30 percent of the money raised to the elephants,” added Chenda.

People can express their appreciation for the elephants by donating to the Airavata Elephant Foundation.

Chenda emphasised the historical significance of elephants in Cambodia and the importance of ongoing conservation efforts to preserve this unique connection.

“If we fail to continue this conservation work due to lack of funding, we risk losing the 2,000-year-old historical connection between the Cambodian people and the elephant species,” she said.

Anticipating a significant turnout, she explained that this year’s event is expected to welcome many distinguished guests, including government officials, corporate leaders, popular artists, and the general public.

One part of the foundation, the sanctuary known as Airavata Traditional Indigenous Village, recreates a Brao indigenous village. Mahouts communicate with elephants using the Laotian language and employ traditional training methods.

Visitors can learn to command the elephants in this language before exploring the community forest, under professional mahout supervision.

The sanctuary’s goal is to create lasting memories, forging emotional connections with the elephants and spark interest in conservation and ecotourism for a sustainable future.

The indigenous Khmer people of Brao are celebrated for their exceptional skills in handling elephants, using positive reinforcement methods in their training, according to Chenda.

“I extend my gratitude to the ministry leaders, philanthropists, and partner companies for their continuous support for the running of the association,” she said.

She called on all Cambodians to join in preserving the elephants and safeguarding this species, which holds deep historical significance in Cambodian culture, from the threat of extinction.

With over 20 years of experience in the hospitality industry, she initially moved to Ratanakiri to establish a hotel.

However, witnessing the decline in ecotourism related to elephants and the lack of proper standards of care for these animals, she took matters into her own hands.

Her family has been caring for elephants since 2015, using their own funds to buy elephants from villagers who could no longer afford to care for them.

By starting the Airavata Elephant Foundation in 2017, she aims to fill the gap in ecotourism and preserve the presence of elephants in Ratanakkiri. The foundation y fully funds all the expenses related to the important work they do.

Chenda’s family received significant support in 2018 from the Queen Mother, with a generous $20,000 donation. Subsequently, they also received an annual $20,000 donation from the environment ministry.

Many kind-hearted strangers who recognise their impactful work and the associated expenses provide additional help during their charity events.

The family also receives support from various government ministries, including the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, Ministry of Information, Ministry of Tourism, and Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries, as well as from private sector institutions and friends.

Despite this support, Chenda emphasised that the expenses of the elephants are substantial, and it remains essential to pay the staff caring for the elephants fairly to strike a balanced approach that supports both the elephants and their families.

To contribute to the elephants’ welfare, individuals can make donations by calling 081 770 150 or through the association’s bank accounts at ACLEDA (15255639) and ABA (001 674 633).