Farmers in Cambodia found 11 Asian elephants trapped in a mud hole — an old bomb crater from the Vietnam War that the farmers had enlarged to store water.
The 10-foot walls in the hole in Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary were too high for the elephants to scale and, as the mud dried, it became increasingly more difficult for the herd to escape.
The farmers contacted the Department of the Environment, and employees there reached out to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Elephant Livelihood Initiative Environment (ELIE) for help.
Villagers worked with the team to help bring food and water to the elephants while a ramp was built and lowered into the hole.
"This involved a massive effort of digging a ramp and escape channel, loading in branches and logs and roughage and cooling them down with a big hose and to also loosen the mud around them, before they finally moved toward the exit," Jemma Bullock of ELIE wrote on Facebook.
"Finally ... one after the other they stormed out of there. However more drama struck when one little baby was left behind. So the rescue mission launched back into action. As a huge storm rolled in, we attempted to rope the baby ele to safety. After many attempts and some heart stopping moments, the little gal finally made it out and ran off to the safety of the forest and the herd!"
“This is a great example of everyone working together in Cambodia to save wildlife,” said Dr. Ross Sinclair of WCS in a statement. “Too often the stories around conservation are about conflict and failure, but this is one about cooperation and success. That the last elephant to be rescued needed everyone to pull together on a rope to drag it to safety is symbolic of how we have to work together for conservation."
There were three adult females and eight young juvenile elephants in the herd, including a male that had nearly reached maturity.
‘If the community had not come together with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), ELIE and the Department of Environment to rescue these 11 Asian elephants, this would have been a tragedy” said Tan Setha, WCS technical advisor to the protected area. “These elephants represent an important part of the breeding population in Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary, and their loss would have been a major blow to conservation.”
It appears as if the exhausted elephants has been stuck in the pit for several days with the sun beating down on them.
"This has just shown how unfortunately human deforestation and man-made structures can be a horrific problem for wild elephants that have used these areas for long periods before," Bullock writes. "The more forest we cut down, the less space there is for these beautiful animals and they are forced out into the inhabited areas and newly cut farms."
Here's a video of the rescue: