Animals Asia rescues elephant from gruelling life of logging

29 September 2021

Animals Asia has rescued a 46-year old female elephant called Kham Phanh to the Elephant Conservation Centre where she will be free to roam with other elephants for the rest of her life.

Kham Phanh’s story 

Kham (meaning ‘precious’) Phanh (meaning ‘strong') was born in captivity in the Lak district of Vietnam to a family of agricultural workers.

As with all elephants who are taken from the wild or born into captivity, Kham Phanh would have been “broken in” by her owners, a practice that physically and psychologically breaks the elephant’s wild and free spirit in order to render them submissive to humans.

For the best part of her 46 years, Kham Phanh worked every day, pulling heavy logs on her back and behind her in all weather conditions for hours at a time. 

We don’t know what happened to her mother, we can only speculate and hope that Kham Phanh at least spent some time with her, even if it was working alongside her before she died or was sold on. But what we do know is that Kham Phanh spent most of her life alone, and it’s likely she has never physically interacted with another elephant.

The life of a logging elephant

LIke elephants who are used in tourism — giving rides, being bathed or forced to pose with tourists — elephants who work in the logging industry have hard lives. Their basic needs are often unmet as the owners don’t know, or want to know, how to properly care for them. 

Working elephants are often malnourished and dehydrated from working in the sun all day. When not working they are tied or chained, forcing them to stand or lie down in one spot. 

This long, gruelling, monotonous life can take its toll physically and psychologically on these sentient, inherently wild, sociable animals who suffer greatly from not being able to express their natural behaviours among their own kind. 

Kham Phanh’s future

Animals Asia’s Animal Welfare team in Vietnam has been working closely with the local communities to persuade them to give their elephants over to the ethical venues that we run and are involved with. 

They have been negotiating with Kham Phanh’s owner for a while now, and he finally agreed to release her to the Elephant Conservation Centre, a government-run sanctuary. 

Animals Asia works in partnership with the ECC and provides training, expert advice and resources to help them provide the best possible care for the elephants. 

Free to be an elephant at last

When Kham Phanh arrives at ECC she will have the freedom to roam freely and start to exhibit some of her natural behaviours for the first time in her life. 

Dave Neale, Animals Asia’s Animal Welfare Director explained, “Kham Phanh will have access to lush grass, plants and trees to forage from, fresh water and acres of land to explore. But maybe most importantly, she will have the freedom to choose: where she goes, what she does and who she interacts with. Kham Phanh will no longer be a tool, an object or a thing, she will finally be free to simply be an elephant.”

Friends old and new

As Kham Phanh has been in captivity her entire life, she will need the support and care of a mahout when she moves to ECC. Her mahout will gently introduce her to her new  surroundings and we hope that once she’s settled in, we can begin the process of introducing her to the other rescued elephants.

We know that she and H’Plo, an elephant Animals Asia rescued in 2020, were in the same forest, so it’s likely they’ll know each other’s scent and will have communicated before.

Both Kham Phanh and H’Plo have calm, gentle termperaments, so our elephant experts on the ground feel they could potentially become lifelong friends.

We are very grateful to The Olsen Animal Trust for their continued support for our work to end elephant riding tourism in Vietnam.

Read more: 

H'Plo the elephant's story | Rescue of H'Plo the elephant