Indigenous Bunong Community

The Bunong are believed to be the first inhabitants of Mondulkiri which dates back to more than 2000 years. They are animists, which goes to say that they strongly believe that everything has a spirit. The Bunong tribe reveres nature and they have been living in close alliance with the forest successfully across thousands of years.Tagged as a 'minority', 
they make up the majority of the population in Mondulkiri but less then 2% of the total population in Cambodia.

Importance Of this Community

Their contribution towards the Cambodian and world heritage is not only limited to their unique on-the-surface way of life, but also their deep knowledge of the forests, natural remedies and animals – especially theAsianelephants. 
As they believe in the forest ‘spirit’andstrongly abide by rules and taboos which, as old-fashioned as they sound, work towards living in harmony among themselves and with nature. The unique biodiversity this region of Cambodia has today is a result of their reverence of these very forests.  
There is a lot of wisdom underlying in their traditions and much of it hasn't been understood yet. But the traditions at the heart of any culture will meet their fate if not nourished by the people. 

Bunong – The Care-takers of Elephants

Also known as Elephant tamers, the Bunong have been co-existing with the elephants for more than 120 years. Like the Forest Spirit, they worship the Elephant Spirit and consider them sacred. They are treated like members of the family and it is forbidden to eat elephant meat. Even today the elephants are collectively looked after by the village families. They domesticated wild elephants and mainly used them for transport – especially in deep forest areas. Today things are starkly different. Their way-of-life had been so closely tied in with the elephants  that they were and still are central to the Bunong life and many traditions revolve around them.However, there are less than 100 domestic elephants left. Like the Bunong they have been facing enormous challenges for survival. Many killed in the bombings during the war and by Khmer Rouge soldiers.

Current state of affairs

After seeing through atrocities of the war and Khmer Rouge to name a few, their fight for survival continues in the wake of Cambodia’s increasing urbanization.Their simple way of life has left them unprepared to deal with the reality of 21st century. With education and health care still barely accessible in their relatively remote villages, their survival is under ongoing threat from sickness and land-grabbing (as they are often cheated by the investors).Their livelihood mainly depends on farming. They grow mainly grow bananas, rice, cassava and jackfruit and sell excess in nearby towns. The families are known to go months without food, especially during dry season and that is when they turn to the forests for some produce, fish and resin to be sold in the market. Their alternate skills around weaving and elephant taming are close to extinction.Also, the elephants have gained international attention and are fueling tourism in this region of Cambodia.  While the subject of tourism around these Asian Elephants remains controversial, participatory tourism helps support the livelihood of the Bunong, keeping them close to their elephants and preserving their way of life. 


There are many international NGOs that are urging the government of Cambodia to protect the Bunong, the Asian Elephant and the unique bio-diversity of Cambodia. We, too, endeavor to contribute towards their welfare as we fully recognize how closely interdependent they are. It is a long road to deliverance, but every journey begins with a small step.