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Ashley Graves


Ashley Graves

Aggie Law Class of 2019

Building the Rule of Law

Mondulkiri: Environmental Issues
by Ashley Graves
Cambodia Elephant Valley ProjectAggie Law Global Programs Field Trip students with Associate Deans Charlotte Ku and Cynthia Alkon ​meet Sambo at the Elephant Valley Project in Cambodia's Mondulkiri region.

Mondulkiri is a region of Cambodia that is in the northeast corner of Cambodia along the Vietnam border. Like many regions in Cambodia with extensive jungle, Mondulkiri is facing deforestation because of mining and illegal logging and reduction in animal populations because of illegal poaching.

Mondulkiri is a perfect picture of the major environmental issues that are occurring in Cambodia and, on our trip there, we were able to see ways in which different organizations are attempting to both raise awareness and solve these particular issues.

One of the coolest organizations we were able to visit was the Elephant Valley Project. Originally, we were not supposed to visit the Elephant Valley Project, but through some Aggie Network connections and some great negotiating by Dean Alkon, we were able to connect with an Aggie Former Student Tyler Nukols '14, ​the Project's ecotourism and communications coordinator, and visit the Elephant Valley Project on a Saturday, a day on which it is normally closed.

During our visit, we had the opportunity to see Sambo, whose story is absolutely heartbreaking. Sambo is arguably Cambodia’s most famous elephant and, if you Google her, you will find pictures of her at Wat Phnom in Phnom Penh giving people, especially tourists, rides on her back. Now, you may thinking, “Cool! I’d love to do something like that!” and like you, a few years ago I thought the same thing.

But the problem with riding elephants like Sambo is that they were not designed to carry people on their backs all day. It compresses their ribs and damages their spine. In addition, walking around on the city streets damages their feet. In fact, when Sambo arrived at the sanctuary, she had a huge construction nail embedded deep in her foot, and she almost lost her foot because of that.

On the day we visited, Sambo was receiving medical treatment for her foot and, as we watched her receive that treatment [see video here], it gave us a great picture of what the Elephant Valley Project does.

The Elephant Valley Project contracts with owners of elephants to keep them at the sanctuary instead of working on the streets. In addition, it allows the mahouts, those who have trained the elephants since they were babies, to stay on and work with the elephants while they are at the sanctuary. In this way, they are able to provide jobs and health insurance to the people who were working in the elephant tourism industry and ensure that they don’t have a reason to go back to that industry. Additionally, the Elephant Valley Project promotes ecotourism, which is tourism to support conservation efforts and observe wildlife.

Another organization that promotes awareness for environmental issues is the Young Eco Ambassadors. The Young Eco Ambassadors speak to college students about the environmental issues happening in Cambodia and take students who have grown up in the city to places like Mondulkiri, so that these students can see first-hand that the Cambodian environment is worth saving. This is an important organization because it is ​young people who will lead change in Cambodia, and this organization is directed towards them. Thus, it is likely that Young Eco Ambassadors will be speaking to the next leaders of Cambodia and helping them understand that protecting the environment is an important issue.

Finally, we worked with the Vishnu Law Group which is creating a solution to these environmental issues through collaborative land management. Vishnu Law Group worked with the Ministry of Environment to create the environmental code for Cambodia which is now going through the enactment process.

But, once it is enacted, Cambodia will still have to develop ways to enforce the environmental code. That is where collaborative management comes in.

The idea behind collaborative management is that the attorney facilitates while the community enforces the law. If done well, this will allow enforcement of the environmental code and, eventually, other laws as well, even in the remote villages.

It is the local communities who really suffer from illegal logging and poaching, so they are the most likely people to help stop these activities. Thus, if the communities are empowered, then it is likely the illegal poaching and logging may be slowed.

Vishnu Law Group is partnering with organizations such as the Community Empowerment Development Team, other stakeholders and non-governmental organizations to help engage the communities in Mondulkiri and other areas and develop collaborative management.

Ultimately, our experience in Mondulkiri reinforced the fact that the community must be involved for real change to happen.

In Mondulkiri, Vishnu Law Group and other organizations are hoping to see change through collaborative management, and, at the Elephant Valley Sanctuary, conservationists are involving those who were profiting from the elephant tourism industry so that they have options other than using elephants for profit.

By involving the community, these organizations will ensure that there is lasting change and, hopefully, some of the damage can be halted.
Cambodia Elephant Valley Project​The Aggie Law group visit the Elephant Valley Project (EVP). Their tour was led by Texas A&M University Former Student Tyler Nukols '14, EVP Ecotourism and Communications Coordinator, an example of the global ​reach of the Aggie Network.
Cambodia Elephant Valley Project SamboFormer street-performing elephant Sambo is now cared for at Elephant Valley Project.
Cambodia rubber plantationBrian Rohan of the Vishnu Law Group, members of the Young Eco Ambassadors and Aggie Law students learn how trees are tapped at a rubber tree plantation.
Cambodia Young Eco AmbassadorsMembers of the Young Eco Ambassadors and the Aggie Law students sample some fruits ​from the forest.
Cambodia Mondulkiri forestBrian Rohan discusses the environmental issues facing Cambodia.
Cambodia community meeting in MondulkiriCommunity leaders mee​t with the Texas A&M Law group and the Young Eco Ambassadors to discuss their environmental management challenges and goals.
Cambodia Mondulkiri mapEvening briefing with Brian Rohan to locate the Bursa communities prior to our visit on the following day.
Cambodia landscape viewViewing the land to understand the importance of marking boundaries in practical and recognizable ways.
Cambodia Mondulkiri cityView of Sen Monorom, the main city of Mondulkiri, (which means ‘Meeting of the Hills’), from our hotel.
Cambodia breakfast briefingMorning debriefing with Brian Rohan to discuss future work and projects to support sustainable land use in the Mondulkiri region.