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Projects in Laos PDR

Elefantasia's Mobile Vet Units

Vanessa Gagne

THE DOCTOR MAKES HOUSE CALLS –
Often nomadic, working in remote areas of isolated forest with access to veterinary medication and treatment often impossible, many captive elephants would suffer from horrific yet preventable conditions were it not for the veterinarians who make ‘house calls’.

In cooperation with the Lao National Animal Health Center, ElefantAsia implements free veterinary treatment for working elephants suffering from illness or injury via their Mobile Veterinary Units.  These vehicles are especially adapted for the treatment of elephants in remote logging sites, tourism centers, and villages where elephants are employed.  It also provides advice to mahouts on basic care and medicines.  

Laos Mobile Elephant Clinic

Laos Mobile Elephant Clinic

The Lao Elephant Care and Management Programme (LECMP) mobile veterinary units’ main project areas include Sayaboury, Luang Prabang, Champassak, and Vientiane provinces within the Lao PDR.  They carry out approximately 12 national field missions per annum with an additional 10 emergency missions within the same time frame.  Without the implementation of the Mobile Veterinary missions, many domesticated elephants, particularly those working in the logging industry, would suffer unnecessarily from treatable conditions such as abscesses, broken legs, and foot injuries.  Physical exhaustion and malnutrition are also issues of great concern.

A meeting is held on the first day of each LECMP mission to train the mahouts and elephant owners and give them information on specific subjects.  In 2013, the vet team offered a presentation on ‘tuberculosis in elephants and people’, to raise awareness about the zoonotic risk in the mahout community.  In 2015, the new registration system (ID cards) was introduced to the owners.  This year, several subjects of major interest will be discussed with mahouts such as ‘musth management and control to prevent accidents’ or ‘reproduction in elephants’.

Treating a bull with a large abcess

Treating a bull with a large abcess

In Laos, the elephant population is decreasing at an alarming rate, presently registering 10 deaths per 3 births each year.  Very few captive female elephants in Laos are still candidates for breeding and those not given the opportunity to breed early enough are likely to develop reproductive tract pathologies that limit their fertility.  To ensure the viability of the Lao elephant population, the young females need to be urgently involved in a breeding program.  The LECMP team raises awareness in the mahout community regarding the benefits of a breeding program and gives incentives to the owners to breed their elephants.  Furthermore, alternative opportunities to logging are discussed with the mahouts and mahout associations were created to make a transition towards good tourism for logging elephants.

In addition, the Veterinary Units also implement a micro-chipping and registration campaign with introduction of elephant ID cards to identify all domesticated elephants in Laos.  The ID cards summarize the elephant’s information (age, sex, owner information, breeding, and medical history) in order to strengthen capacity for a sustainable management of the Lao elephant populations.  The identification cards work to safeguard the remaining captive elephants in Laos, in particular juveniles under the age of three which cannot be micro-chipped and are highly valued by illegal traders.  It also reduces the risk of illegal capture and trade of wild populations.

Taking a blood sample

Taking a blood sample

Asian Elephant Support has helped fund various needs with ElefantAsia over the last several years and since the beginning of 2016, we are delighted to be able to offer financial support to this very much needed and worthwhile project that is managed and implemented very efficiently and effectively.  Our thanks to YOU, our donors, for helping us make a difference to the elephants of Laos.  

Noy An's Story

Vanessa Gagne

You may remember the picture of Noy An with veterinarian Emma Chave from our California Pizza Kitchen fundraiser.  Her mother, Mae Kham di, worked in logging.  There are no real settled logging camps in Laos.  Private timber companies hire a few mahout/elephant pairs for a while and then the mahouts move their elephants to other work sites.  More than 50% of the Lao domesticated elephants still work in logging, but as the forest is shrinking, they have less work than before.  Therefore a proper, responsible transition towards tourism is really needed.  

ElefantAsia is a French NGO working since 2001 to protect the Lao elephants.  Their projects help the Lao domestic population all over Laos and they run the only elephant hospital in the country, based at the Elephant Conservation Center (ECC) in Sayaboury, Laos.

Owners of working elephants in Asian countries usually try to make sure their elephants do not become pregnant.  An elephant’s time out of service during the latter stage of pregnancy and during the first year or two of the calf’s life can inflict very real economic hardship on the owner and his family.  Or, worse, the elephant may have to work her entire pregnancy and return to work with a calf that does not get the proper rest and time to nurse that it needs to thrive.

Noy An is a beneficiary of the “Baby Bonus Program’, an initiative of ElefantAsia.  For Noy An, private donors helped ElefantAsia sponsor the bonus to Mae Kham di’s owners in cash and now the ECC is paying a salary for the mahout as Kham di is ‘hired’ as part of the well thought out eco-tourism camp at the ECC.  The contract for Noy An’s bonus is two years and is allowing Noy An the opportunity of learning about being an elephant at her mother’s side and as a healthy youngster, she is active and inquisitive and a true joy to behold.

In Laos, females are bred to both domestic and wild bulls, with a resulting healthier genetic diversity of the population.  And, as we all know, if there are no baby elephants, the day will come when there will be no elephants.  That is not an acceptable possibility if we can help it.

Asian Elephant Support is pleased to have supported the Elephant Conservation Center with modest funding the last three years.   

Noy An nursing

Noy An nursing

ECC Bull Treatment

Vanessa Gagne

Last month we shared a video with you about the Elephant Conservation Center in Sayaboury, Laos.  Now we’d like to go a bit further into their role as a provider of elephant healthcare in the area.  Here you will see the resident veterinarian Emma clean and dress an abscess on the back of the bull Phu Kam Soey, with the assistance of her aide, Kan.  It is an elaborate process to make sure the abscess is prepared for proper healing.  The elephant is brought into what is referred to as an elephant restraint device.  There, the mahout keeps his attention with treats, usually cooked rice, while the vet performs the necessary steps.  It is imperative that the elephant be made to feel calm and accepting of these medical procedures, such is the importance of the elephant/mahout bond.  This is an example of what drives the motivation for AES:  local, everyday situations where we can be of assistance to elephants and the people whose lives are intrinsically linked to them.  Watch the video below, or on YouTube.

The Elephant Conservation Center

Vanessa Gagne

The Elephant Conservation Center (ECC) in Sayaboury, Laos, has become a haven for logging elephant mahouts.  It offers veterinary care among many other needed services to mahouts and their elephants.  Laos is a major contributor to the logging industry, however, it has been severely impacted by illegal logging over the past century.  Now that so much old growth forest has been decimated, it’s not just the trees that have been impacted, but the humans and elephants as well.  With the population of Asian elephants in their range countries declining, the ECC in Laos is a beacon of hope in sustaining their numbers and allowing mahouts to remain culturally relevant.  The following video highlights the importance of the ECC to elephants in Laos.

Asian Elephant Support (AES) in conjunction with ElefantAsia has been fortunate to work with and contribute toward the success of the ECC.  In the past, AES has been able to fund the purchase of dart guns, medicine for their mobile vet unit, a portable scale, and more recently provide for the education and salary of their employee Kan.

With heavy hearts... Noy's passing

Vanessa Gagne

Asian Elephant Support has previously collaborated with ElefantAsia on medicines for their mobile clinics and a second dart gun. In August, 2013, AES president Linda delivered to the Elephant Conservation Center in Sayaboury, Laos, a portable scale. It was on this trip that she met Noy, a young orphaned calf the Wildlife Department brought to the ECC for care. It was the too-familiar seesaw of periods of improvement followed by not so good times, The scale was finally showing some steady weight gains when tragedy struck and we believe it is best told by those who were with him and caring for him.

Noy arrived in ECC at the end of May.  He had been spotted by villagers in a farm, close to Nam Pouy's protected area. We told you about his story there. Exactly one month ago, Noy had an accidental fall that left him with severely restricted mobility of his hind legs. He fell down a slope inside his enclosure, a sliding fall of approxiately 1.5 meters, which under normal circumstances would be very unlikely to cause large trauma. A veterinary team was with him within 30 seconds. Unfortunately, radiography is impossible on animals Noy’s size, so there was no way of knowing all of the underlying causes of his symptoms. In the hope that his injuries were reversible, and to avoid and ease the many side effects that comes from being 400 kilos and immobile, Noy has had a devoted team of veterinarians, a biologist, assistants, students and friends working around the clock to try to rehabilitate him and at least keep him happy.

Devastatingly, despite all the best efforts, Noy’s condition had not improved as hoped, but instead in the last few days it declined rapidly until finally yesterday he died quietly.

The post mortem investigations showed that bones in Noy’s back legs were broken in his fall and that he suffered from metabolic bone disease, which means that the skeleton is not as strong as it should be.

Metabolic bone disease is a condition that is painfully common among orphan elephant babies, who don’t get access to the important mother’s milk. From his first day in the center, Noy had been given a carefully composed diet, including mineral supplements and great efforts had been made to provide everything a growing baby elephant body needs. Unfortunately, baby elephants cannot digest cow’s milk and there is no perfect formula that would meet their special needs. The uptake of minerals to the bones is very complex and even with all the building blocks provided, Noy’s body had not been able to create strong enough bones. No cure exists for broken legs in elephants; he would never have been able to walk again.

We will always remember this beautiful and amazingly strong little elephant that touched so many hearts.

After a ceremony, where all the team was able to say goodbye. Noy is now in the forest where he loved to play, resting forever together with his best friends, the red and green plastic reindeer, Jean Paul I and II.

Laos Update

Vanessa Gagne

In November 2013, AES provided funding for an elephant caregiver from the Elephant Conservation Center (ECC) in Laos to attend the 6th mahout workshop in Sumatra.

We are pleased to report that as promised, Kan returned to Laos and shared the knowledge he gained at the workshop with the veterinarians and mahouts at the ECC. He has been working very hard and has been given more responsibility. He is now the Elephant Manager, and among other things, is in charge of scheduling for the mahouts, elephant diets, forest management, and is a link between the ECC and the Laotian government.

While Kan was at the mahout workshop, he initiated several conversations with the other mahouts about caring for calves. We are proud of Kan's determination to return to Laos to improve the lives of the two calves living at the ECC. As a result of the dedication of Kan and the other volunteers and staff, the orphan calf at the ECC is thriving. His name is Noy and he now weighs 705 pounds! They have started a training program based on positive reinforcement and Noy enjoys “playing” along. Ultimately, the future of the elephants in Laos is in the hands of the Laotian people and we will continue to support the individuals working diligently every day to improve the lives of the elephants in Laos.

Noy enjoying a dust bath

Noy enjoying a dust bath

Delivering the Scale to the ECC in Sayaboury

Vanessa Gagne

Back in the July 2013 newsletter, we shared how your donations made it possible for AES to purchase a portable scale for the Elephant Conservation Center (ECC) in Sayaboury, Laos. On August 12th, AES president, Linda Reifschneider, left St. Louis, MO, and headed to Laos with the scale. Asian Elephant Support has helped fund several projects for ElefantAsia in the past and we wanted to get first-hand observations of the work being done and to meet the individuals that work so diligently to maintain Laos’ only elephant hospital.  

Mother and calf

Mother and calf

Sadly, in a country that was once referred to as the “Land of a Million Elephants”, Laos now only has approximately 700 elephants left in the wild and approximately 500 elephants in captivity.  Every elephant is important to the future of wildlife in Laos.  ElefantAsia and the ECC are desperately working to preserve this rapidly declining population.  While being able to obtain an accurate weight to calculate drug dosages is invaluable in a hospital situation, the ECC’s breeding program makes a scale even more useful.  Many of the elephants in captive situations are still being used in the logging industry.  

The ECC offers owners of reproductively viable female elephants the opportunity to still produce a minimal income while their elephant is on “maternity leave”.   The owners are given a small tiller to grow crops for income or to sell and keep the proceeds during the pregnancy. Being able to monitor the weight of these babies will be very beneficial to this program.  Currently, the ECC has one mother and calf pair and a young orphaned calf.

Bull receiving treatment for abscesses

Bull receiving treatment for abscesses

While at the center, Linda had the opportunity to observe the daily medical treatments given to two adult bull elephants.  One suffered a damaged tail from an attack by a wild elephant and the other suffered multiple injuries as a result of a young and inexperienced mahout.  This second incident reinforces the need for better education for mahouts in many areas of Asia, an effort AES is actively pursuing.

Bull with damaged tail with his mahout and owner

Bull with damaged tail with his mahout and owner

Overall, Linda was impressed with the work being done by ElefantAsia and the ECC and we know the scale will be put to good use.  With your help, we look forward to continuing our support for these organizations in the future.  

 

Elephant Hospital in Laos Gets a Portable Scale

Vanessa Gagne

With an increase in the number of human-elephant conflicts (HEC) and other issues facing Asian elephants today, the Elephant Hospital in Laos is seeing an increase in the number elephants that require treatment. In many situations, it is critical to have an accurate weight to determine the proper dosage of medication to avoid overdosing. Also, with medication not as accessible as in the West, it is important to use the correct amount.  Your donations have made it possible for AES to purchase a portable scale for the Elephant Hospital. As shown in the picture, the scales have arrived and will be hand-delivered in August by our president. Watch for more updates from Laos over the next couple of months!

ElefantAsia Update

Vanessa Gagne

In the past two years, Asian Elephant Support has made donations for medical supplies to ElefantAsia, a French nonprofit organization operating in Laos that is dedicated to protecting Asian elephants.  In December 2012, the AES president made her first visit to Laos to see some of the work we have supported.

The destination was the Elephant Conservation Center (ECC) in Sayaboury, Laos.  The ECC is a privately owned entity that provides funding for the first elephant hospital in Laos.  ElefantAsia has partnered with the ECC and makes up any shortfall in this funding.  ElefantAsia also funds the mobile missions and conservation education outreach program, including a regional mahout association to improve the level of education and elephant welfare.

The ECC raises funds for the hospital by offering lodging and volunteer elephant experience to visitors. While most visitors go for the three-day package for $175, there is also a six day package for $399, and   longer term volunteers are accepted for $399 a week.   The ECC is home to five elephants, one bull and four females, who became residents out of need for a permanent home.  It is located on a gorgeous lake amid beautiful hills and lush flora and is rural enough to preclude unplanned visitors.

ElefantAsia has been working in Laos for 12 years.  Years of visiting every captive elephant they could find with their mobile clinic has built trusting relationships. Today, elephant owners and mahouts are calling for help more frequently and the owners, who are making an income with their elephant, are usually willing to pay for treatment. The mobile units and clinic have helped improve the lives of the elephants by providing inoculations, de-worming medications, other treatments, and kits of basic elephant medical supplies for the mahouts.  ElefantAsia has also initiated a breeding incentive program in which elephant owners/mahouts are paid for the elephant’s “maternity leave” (from near birth until the calf is 18 months of age).  The owner is also given a small plow to assist with alternative income while his elephant is out-of-work.

The ECC has arrangements with local villages to provide training on growing food for the elephants and a “guarantee purchase” program to create sustainable relationships.   Recently, a French agronomist worked for six months to start a gardening system using solar-powered irrigation from the lake to create sustainable food growth for a population of 12 to 15 elephants year round.  This program has also reduced the use of fertilizers and “slash and burn agriculture” through education and support of local producers.  In addition, the ECC offers job opportunities to a dozen or more people.

When you have a program that is making positive strides for an elephant population, you always have future goals.  ElefantAsia would like an enclosed barn for the elephant patients, an ultrasound for the breeding program, and other equipment and medicines.  This visit reinforced our conviction that our past funding to ElefantAsia has been a wise use of our funds and we will look at further ways to help them continue their work in Laos.

Please visit  www.elefantasia.org to learn more about the Elephant Conservation Center and ElefantAsia.

Medicine for ElefantAsia's Mobile Vet Unit

Chris Reifschneider

One of ElefantAsia’s projects is “Capacity Building to Strengthen Management of Captive Elephants” in Laos. This is an expansion of the Lao Captive Elephant Care and Management Program, which provides free veterinary care to the working elephants of Laos. They are also working on microchipping the nation’s elephants, to reduce the illegal capture and trade of wild and captive elephants.

ElefantAsia has also implemented the “Management of Domesticated Elephants” project which outlines and enforces fair working conditions for elephants and their mahouts, and also issues the official elephant identification cards. There are approximately 470 captive elephants in Laos. As logging is still legal in Laos, many of the elephants are involved in this industry and they frequently suffer injuries from working in such conditions. ElefantAsia operates Mobile Veterinary Units (MVUs) that travel to remote logging locations to provide free medical treatment to these elephants. The MVUs also respond to emergency healthcare and musth management missions throughout the country.

In order to facilitate cost efficiency, the MVUs provide treatment and medicines to the working elephants while also conducting field missions to distribute the elephant identification cards. AES is impressed by the comprehensive work ElefantAsia does for the elephants of Laos and we are honored to collaborate with such a trustworthy and hardworking organization. As a result, Asian Elephant Support donated $1800 to cover the cost of medicine used by the Mobile Veterinary Units for six months.

For more information about ElefantAsia, visit their website at: http://www.elefantasia.org

 

ElefantAsia MVUs in Laos

Vanessa Gagne

Asian Elephant Support is pleased to help support another project of ElefantAsia! You may remember that last year we purchased a dart gun for ElefantAsia that was used to help manage dangerous bulls in musth. For those who don’t remember, ElefantAsia is a non-profit in Lao PDR that works to safeguard Asian elephants and is the only organization dedicated to caring for elephants and their mahouts in this country. Working in collaboration with governmental organizations in Laos, “ElefantAsia initiates elephant conservation programs, elephant breeding incentives, environmental awareness and economic sustainability campaigns throughout areas of Laos populated by domesticated and wild elephants.”

One of ElefantAsia’s current projects is “Capacity Building to Strengthen Management of Captive Elephants” in Laos. This is an expansion of the Lao Captive Elephant Care and Management Program, which provides free veterinary care to the working elephants of Laos. They are also working on micro-chipping the nation’s elephants, to reduce the illegal capture and trade of wild and captive elephants. ElefantAsia has also implemented the “Management of Domesticated Elephants” project which outlines and enforces fair working conditions for elephants and their mahouts, and also issues the official elephant identification cards.

There are approximately 470 captive elephants in Laos. As logging is still legal in Laos, many of the elephants are involved in this industry and they frequently suffer injuries from working in such conditions. ElefantAsia operates Mobile Veterinary Units (MVUs) that travel to remote logging locations to provide free medical treatment to these elephants. The MVUs also respond to emergency healthcare and musth management missions throughout the country.

In order to facilitate cost efficiency, the MVUs provide treatment and medicines to the working elephants while also conducting field missions to distribute the elephant identification cards. AES is impressed by the comprehensive work ElefantAsia does for the elephants of Laos and we are honored to collaborate with such a trustworthy and hardworking organization. As a result, Asian Elephant Support has agreed to donate $1800 to cover the cost of medicine used by the Mobile Veterinary Units for six months. We look forward to further collaborative opportunities with ElefantAsia.  

Dart Gun for ElephantAsia

Vanessa Gagne

ElefantAsia is a French nonprofit organization working with and for elephants in Lao PDR, a historical range country of the Asian elephant. Founded in 2001, and hosted by the National Animal Health Center in Vientiane since 2006, the base of their work is in the Sayaboury Province of Laos. ElefantAsia runs a mobile clinic that travels all over the country to help captive elephants that are in need of help. Many of the emergency calls are related to uncontrollable musth bull elephantsthat have broken their chains and are dangerous not only to themselves but to people as well. Owners and local authorities will call the ElefantAsia team to help calm down the elephant so that it can be taken back to areas safe for villagers. With only one sedative gun (kept in the Sayaboury province), the ElefantAsia team can’t always offer a timely response to elephant owners facing such problems in other parts of Laos.

In July 2011, Asian Elephant Support donated $1500 toward the purchase of a second dart gun for the Vientiane-based elephant mobile clinic, thus aiding ElefantAsia in their efforts to help both the elephants and people who live with and among elephants in the country of Laos.

For more information about ElefantAsia, visit their website at: http://www.elefantasia.org