Mondulkiri Province, Cambodia (March 2, 2020) – The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) released dramatic video today showing the rescue of an Asian elephant that had tumbled into a Vietnam War-era bomb crater in Cambodia and couldn’t get out.

The elephant, estimated to be around 20 years old, was first spotted by a man from O Am village who heard the elephant rumbling behind his house the evening before. The next morning, he discovered the trapped animal and immediately informed staff at the nearby Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary (KSWS).

A team of WCS conservationists, rangers from Cambodia’s Ministry of Environment, and community members rallied to the elephant’s rescue, digging an exit route for the trapped animal. Meanwhile the local fire department kept it cool by spraying it with water.

After spending more than an hour digging, the team watched the elephant clamber out of the hole and escape back into the forest.

“This was a true team effort. The whole community rallied to save this elephant,” said Ken Sereyrotha, WCS Cambodia Country Director. “It was very inspiring that so many people came to its rescue, and that it emerged unharmed.”

Most of the deep holes in the forest in KSWS are remnants of bombing during the Vietnam War. Many of them are now used as watering holes to irrigate crops.

This is the second incident of elephants becoming trapped in irrigation pools near O Am village. In 2017, 11 elephants were successfully rescued. To ensure wildlife does not become trapped in irrigation pools, conservationists are advising that at least one sloped side should be cut into any large pools made or used for agricultural purposes to allow animals to escape.

The rescue took place on the boundary between Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary and the recently cancelled Snoul Wildlife Sanctuary, which has suffered extensive deforestation over the last 10 years.

The Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary, formerly known as the Seima Protection Forest, is home to more than 60 species of animal and plants on the global Red List that are threatened with extinction, according to the criteria of IUCN, the World Conservation Union. The area is of international importance for the conservation of primates (including the world’s largest known populations of black-shanked douc and southern yellow-cheeked crested gibbons), wild cats, Asian elephants, wild cattle and several species of birds. Seima is also home to many communities of the Bunong indigenous ethnic group that have depended on the forest economically, culturally, and spiritually for generations. Their needs are integrated into the design and management of Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary.

WCS’s work in the Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary is supported by USAID, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and REDD+ carbon sales.