A crater created by a B-52 bomber during the Vietnam War became the scene of a near-tragedy when 11 Asian elephants became stuck in the muddy watering hole in the Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary in Cambodia.
Villagers near the pond contacted Keo Sopheak, head of the Mondolkiri provincial environmental department, and a rescue operation was launched, according to The Cambodia Daily and The Phnom Penh Post.
The elephants had been trapped for four days without food before being rescued Friday, the Wildlife Conservation Society Cambodia reported on Facebook.
"This herd consisted of three adult females and eight juveniles of various ages, including a male that had almost reached maturity," the WCS Cambodia reported on Facebook. "These elephants represent an important part of the breeding population in Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary, and their loss would have been a major blow for conservation."
The bomb crater was repurposed as a water storage pond, and the elephants were obviously seeking water when they fell in.
Sopheak said the walls of the crater were too steep for the elephants to climb out and as the water began to dry, they became stuck in the muddy quagmire.
Villagers, wildlife organizations and local government officials worked to create an exit for the elephants.
"After we watered them, some villagers helped cut bamboo leaves for them to eat because they do not have food for four days," Sopheak said. "We dug out the sides of the pit and placed wood planks for them to walk on."
Ten of the 11 elephants made it out on their own. But one young elephant was too weak to escape, so rescuers tied a rope to it and pulled it out.
"The mother may abandon the elephant," Olly Griffin of WCS Cambodia said, noting the herd might forsake the youngster if it smells like humans."
Rangers will monitor the herd to see if the young elephant is accepted.
"This is a great example of everyone working together in Cambodia to save wildlife," Dr. Ross Sinclair, WCS country director, said. "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."