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Projects in Sumatra, Indonesia

Update from Sumatra: veterinary work, calves born to Olive and Yuni

Vanessa Gagne

Our latest update from Sumatra is a testimony to the scope of happenings one encounters when working for and with Asian elephants.

Collaboration and learning are keywords in our campaign to help both captive and wild Asian elephants. In the past couple of months, Christopher’s group hosted Dr. Satya P. G. Bhalla, who is a veterinarian from Corbett Tiger Reserve.  Dr. Bhalla came to volunteer and guest lecture to the veterinary faculty in Banda Aceh about conservation medicine and veterinary needs in his national park.  Dr. Sonja Luz, a wildlife veterinarian from Singapore, who works on many conservation projects in south Asia and Africa, was also a guest lecturer addressing conservation medicine, reptile husbandry and medical care.  

Facilitating the exchange of information and knowledge is an important part of improving our care of not only Asian elephants but all wildlife, and we certainly appreciate their extra effort in this direction.

Unfortunately, not all AES news is as positive and encouraging. Several weeks ago, a morning began with the call that’s never wanted:  Edi, one of the elephants at ECC Holiday Resort, was found dead.  Christopher rushed to perform a necropsy, but the cause of death was not clearly revealed, so now we wait for the results from the lab.  Prompt necropsies help us learn and expand our knowledge for ever-improving care. None the less, it is never easy to lose an elephant, especially when it is sudden and unexpected.  We share in their loss.

In the beginning of December an emergency call came in from Aceh, as one of the male elephants in musth had attacked and seriously injured its mahout.  The elephant was out of control, attacking people and cars on the main road. A standing sedation had to be administered from a distance using a blow pipe.  The elephant’s long tusks were trimmed for safety and he was secured with a 20’ chain to a tree with easy access to food and water.  Until he is no longer in musth, the elephant will still be restrained in the forest and looked after by the mahouts. His mahouts will move his location daily by luring him with bananas so that the chain can be removed and he is then relocated to an area with fresh fodder.

Tusk trim on sedated bull

Tusk trim on sedated bull

Were it not for the vets and their ability to help bring this musth bull under control, the outcome would surely be grim!  We so appreciate these people who make it possible for such animals to be taken care of for their own safety as well as the people in the area.

Now some very happy news!    In November, Olive gave birth to her first calf, a very tiny (for an elephant!) but agile and healthy little girl.  On December 4th, Yuni at Tangkahan gave birth to a male calf weighing about 70 kg.  It is Yuni’s first calf and she is taking very good care of her baby and both mother and calf are in good health.  Now the two mothers often stay together, giving the calves the chance to play and socialize.  These are the moments that lift our hearts and reaffirm why we care so very much.

And it’s not always just about elephants.  During Christopher’s last visit to Aceh, he examined a tiger, which had been captured in central Aceh after killing some cattle and two villagers in the past three months.  The tiger was sedated for a general health examination and found to be in good health and, according to his teeth, was estimated to be 6 to 7 years old.  At the time of Christopher’s writing, the tiger was still in quarantine, while options for release in a remote forest area are considered and evaluated.   This is an example of people working primarily with one species and being in the position to help others. Thanks to Christopher and the Vesswic veterinarians, and here’s to a very good 2011 for our Sumatran friends, both two and four-legged!