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Projects in Laos PDR

Elefantasia's Mobile Vet Units

Vanessa Gagne

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.