When 11 elephants got stuck in a deep muddy crater created decade ago by a U.S. bomb in what is now Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary in Mondolkiri province, the local community rallied around to help.
A rescue operation involving villagers and four wildlife organizations swung into action on Sunday morning—once locals realized what had happened—to save the stricken animals, which had been stranded in the sticky mud for about four days.
Keo Sopheak, head of the provincial environment department, said he was contacted by villagers living near the pond, which was formed by “an old U.S. B52 bomb that dropped and people later renovated to store water.”
A forest where the elephants often forage for food is near the pond, which is about 3 meters deep and 10 meters long, he said.
Mr. Sopheak arrived at about 10 a.m., and was joined by rangers from the wildlife sanctuary, villagers and staff from conservation groups WWF, Wildlife Conservation Society, Wildlife Alliance and Elephant Livelihood Initiative Environment (ELIE).
People used their hands and small tools to dig a channel up the side of the pit, laying down logs and tree branches to help the elephants climb out.
Jemma Bullock, program manager for ELIE, said the elephants would not have lasted much longer.
“They obviously had been in there at least a couple of days…because the little baby was very exhausted and the mud was so sticky. They were just only laying on top of the mud, and their trunks just holding out of the mud,” she said.
“If we had not rescued them on Sunday, they probably would have died from exhaustion today.”
Ms. Bullock said 10 elephants got out of the pit by about 3.30 p.m. It took another hour to pull out a smaller elephant using ropes.
“We heard the rest of the herd still waiting… so we are pretty confident that she will be fine and they all reunite in the forest,” she added, estimating that the matriarch elephant of the group was about 30 years old and the youngest about 1 year old.
There are between 200 and 250 elephants in Mondolkiri, Mr. Sopheak said. He added that the department would consider building a slope at one end of the pond or a fence around the area to prevent elephants from falling in again.