Kiri & Seila: Elephant Comedians - peteryuenphotography
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Kiri and Seila are Asian elephants living in Teuk Chhou Zoo in Kampot, Cambodia.

Zoos across the world have become subject to a lot of criticism from many organisations and people (including myself), but during the past few years local NGOs like EARS and Wildlife Alliance have worked alongside the government to provide the best care possible for the animals, improving the standards hugely during that time.

It is sad that like many elephants at other zoos or at rescue centres across the world, Kiri and Seila may never truly go back to the wild. Conservation versus welfare is a very complex issue which often produces polarised views, but many charities like Animals Asia in China, ACRES in Singapore, and EARS in Cambodia, not only campaign for conservation of wild animals against the need for zoos, they also work with zoos in order to improve the immediate welfare of the animals.

Many believe that these issues have opposing goals, but others simply do what they can to make animals' lives better in both the short term as individuals and the long term as a species.

And so it is that the lives of these two hilarious and playful elephants were changed completely.


The first thing they need is food and water. Sounds easy enough, but making sure they constantly have clean water and enough food to fill their jumbo-sized stomachs is a full-time job in itself.

Not being able to browse the forest, tonnes of fresh grass is provided, as well as lots and lots of fruit, banana trees, coconuts, sugarcane, the list goes on. Bananas are a treat for any elephant, but EARS provide as much variety as possible both for nutrition and for enrichment.  More interesting sights, smells and tastes every day keep them entertained and enriched. These two giants particularly look forward to the days  that the markets are stocked out with papayas.

And  it's not just fruit and vegetables. Any new stimuli are great to keep these clever animals using their brains. Ice blocks, for example, might help them cool down a little, but are are great source of curiosity for the ellies.


There are other basics too, like space. One of EARS first jobs was to make more room for Kiri and Seila to roam and give them a more varied environment. Where before they had a small dirty and dusty enclosure filled with their own waste. They now have enough room for grass, a muddy wallow, a sandpit and a swimming pool. 

They also need friends. Females like Seila tend to move in herds, while adult bulls tend to roam the wild alone, although Kiri is just reaching adulthood. Aside from each other, they also have local staff to care for them, and visitors to meet.

The welfare of the elephants compared to the general standard at the zoo is obvious to visitors, and EARS take any opportunity they can to raise awareness of the plight of captive elephants and what they can do to help.

Kiri and Seila also have a large shelter to protect them from the scorching Cambodian sun and the raging storms of the wet season. 

Kiri you're not meant to try and bring the shelter down. Stop showing off, this is a serious essay...


What else can EARS provide for two intelligent animals in captivity? Enrichment such as toys, this huge ball donated to the elephants, for example. They have lots of other playthings, tree trunks and barrels, truck tires to roll around and find food inside. Kiri gets particularly moody when his tires are not in  the 'correct' place and charges over to put them back as soon as he notices they've moved.

Whatever new toys they find, they often share with each other. Watching them play brought to mind children in a playground, Kiri taunting Seila and spraying mud all over her (he probably fancies her secretly...) 

As Kiri is demonstrating here, they are also provided with wigs to play dress-up. Wait, what? Kiri get your act together, you're supposed to be being professional for your photo shoot!

Meanwhile you can see Seila... playing hide and seek? Oh not you too Seila. this is getting silly...


An important part of the EARS enrichment programme are the foot massages that Seila not only enjoys, but comes up to the fences and demands. If always having clean water in their lovely swimming pool wasn't enough, it also functions as a whirlpool jacuzzi if you simply add a couple of trunks.

You can see Seila was enjoying her regular facial treatment with her papaya face mask (we don't know why she insists on doing this with papayas once she's eaten what she wants, it must feel good!). Isn't this all a bit too luxurious for these elephants? Now Seila is even getting a tongue massage! These elephants are really being spoilt...


The most important things they have gained in the past few years are friends; people like EARS and their supporters looking out for the elephants.

We all wish there was no need to work with captive animals at all, but while there are still zoos there will still be people to help improve animal welfare. That means happier animals and hope that one day they can be moved to a better place.

Thanks to the generous people all over the globe, living thousands of miles away, these elephants have the chance to be happy and silly every day, which is the least they deserve. 

Learn more about EARS work across Asia at www.earsasia.org

Thank you to my incredible supporters who support my charity work via www.patreon.com/peteryuenphotography

You can buy prints from the EARS gallery, with all the proceeds going directly to EARS.



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