Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary in Mondolkiri province is investigating the case of three elephants found dead inside the protected area on Sunday.
Villagers reportedly stumbled upon the elephants—two mature, one juvenile—in part of the forest called Krang Chilork, according to sanctuary director Samrangdy Vicheath.
“The next day, our officials went to investigate and estimated that the elephants died between two and four weeks ago because their meat was rotting,” Mr. Vicheath said, adding that his staff were working with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to find the cause of death.
“Basically, we have concluded that those elephants are female, two were big and one was the size of a buffalo and they all died in the same place—about 3 or 4 meters between each,” he said.
When asked if there were any visible signs of an attack or if the elephants appeared to have been stripped of their ivory tusks, Mr Vicheara said that WWF was still investigating the case.
“We cannot say because we are working with WWF to investigate the case,” he said. “I don’t know if the elephants lost their ivory or not.”
The Asian Elephant has been designated an endangered species since 1986 and the Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary is said to be home to between 120 and 170 of the estimated 250 elephants remaining in the wild in Cambodia.
When contacted Tuesday, Jack Highwood, a program manager at the Elephant Valley Project in Sen Monorom City in Mondolkiri, said that poaching was unlikely but suggested that the elephants may have died at the hands of humans.
“My information is that three female elephants have been dead there for three to five months and that all that is left of them is bones,” Mr. Highwood said.
“If it is true that they were shot, then this is a tragedy for wildlife conservation and a clear message that more needs to be done to preserve elephants because there are so few of them left,” he said, declining to elaborate.