A long journey home for Jun

This seven-year-old male elephant was rescued by the Dak Lak Elephant Conservation Center (ECC) in Buon Don, Vietnam, in 2014.


Still just a baby, Jun was found wandering alone in the forest, separated from his herd with a gaping hole in his trunk and missing much of his left foot. 

His life-threatening injuries were a result of a chance encounter with a poacher’s snare, which cut deep into his flesh and severed his muscles and bones, toes and pad.

How long was he trapped in that snare? Did his mother struggle to free him? Was he left to die in the forest—alone? 

We don’t know the answers but—based on the severity of his injuries—Jun’s ordeal was long and painful and caused unimaginable suffering over an extended period of time. 

Today, thanks to the ECC and the Vietnam Elephant Initiative (VEI), Jun is safe. But he is not out of the woods. 

When discovered in the forest in 2014, Jun’s trunk had healed on its own (it now has a large, permanent hole), but his foot injury had festered and required surgeries by our VEI veterinarians to remove the snare's wire and infected bone fragments, plus twice-daily cleanings and a daily soak-debride-medicate routine prescribed by VEI.  His care continues today.

When more intense treatments are needed and sedation is required, our new digital “Ele-Scale” will allow ECC staff to weigh Jun in order to determine his exact weight for accurate drug dosages and growth progress.

Positive Reinforcement Training (PRT) delivered by our VEI elephant behaviorist from 2014 to 2018 has fostered a strong bond of mutual trust between the ECC’s mahouts and Jun. This human-elephant bond is essential to his long term care. 

Today, because of PRT, Jun willingly offers his foot to the mahouts for his daily foot treatments and he is comfortable stepping up on our new scale. He seems to understand, “We are here to help.” 

Jun will live his life at the ECC. For him, going home to his herd and his forest is not an option. 

Video caption: 

Using Positive Reinforcement Training techniques, which he learned from VEI partner Erin Ivory, Phu is teaching 7-year-old Jun to be comfortable with people touching his mouth. Why? As a permanent resident of the ECC, orphaned elephant Jun requires lifelong care, including periodic dental and oral check ups to ensure his good health. 

Phu’s lesson--using a whistle, a touch, and then a food treat--will ensure mutual trust between Jun and his veterinarians, allowing quality care to be provided safely and comfortably for all involved. 

Video by Veterinarian Dr. Willem Schaftenaar, September 2017.