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Projects in India

Elephant Health Clinics in India

Chris Reifschneider

September 2013

With your support, Dr. Kushal Sarma continues to do amazing work for Asian elephants and the people who care for them in Assam, India.  Recently he conducted an elephant health care clinic in the Orang National Park and was able to treat 32 government forest camp elephants.  Orang National Park is located on the north bank of the Brahmaputra River and is home to many species including Indian rhinos, Bengal tigers, and Asian elephants.  The park is 78 square kilometers, but is encircled on three sides by people who are quickly encroaching on the land.  The human-elephant conflict is a growing problem in this area, so the elephants are utilized in anti-poaching patrols and to encourage the wild elephant population to stay within the safety of the park boundaries.

Dr. Sarma explaining medical points to the students.

Dr. Sarma explaining medical points to the students.

This was a routine health care clinic and all the elephants were vaccinated against tetanus and hemorrhagic septicemia (an acute bacterial infection).  In addition, some routine stool examinations were conducted and the elephants were given de-worming medication.  All of the females and any bulls that appeared weak were given multi-vitamin and multi-mineral mixtures plus vitamin injections.

Mahouts with their new uniforms

Mahouts with their new uniforms

In addition to helping elephants, AES believes it is important to help the people who care for the elephants.  Most of the people at this clinic are poor and have very few resources to care for the elephants.  Dr. Sarma was able to distribute 40 uniform shirts and an additional 5 khukries (traditional knives).  The knives are used to trim the elephants’ feet and to cut fodder for the elephants, making them a valuable tool in improving the health of the elephants. The uniforms give the mahouts a sense of pride and ownership in the role they play conserving elephants in Assam.
A special surprise occurred during the clinic when a beautiful wild bull visited the camp out of curiosity!  Upon inquiring, we were happily advised that he has many girlfriends in the elephant camps in this area and most of the calves born to captive mothers are sired by him.  However, we don’t believe he stayed around for foot care or vaccinations!

The visiting wild bull

The visiting wild bull

Dr. Sarma also advised he organized an Elephant Day at his college on October 2nd and has this report:

“As a part of the countrywide celebration of “Wild Life Week” in the first week of October, the 2nd October, 2013 was celebrated as “Elephant Day”  with the initiative of the Department of Surgery & Radiology, College of Veterinary Science, Khanapara with various day long programmes. The celebration started with life demonstration of elephant healthcare procedures to the fourth and fifth year BVSc & A.H. as well as some post graduate students by the experts of the department which was followed by an exhibition of rare books on elephants. In the next half of the programme, power point presentations were made on various topics involving the elephants  by Dr(Ms) Munmun Sarma, Associate Professor, Department of Anatomy & Histology, Dr. G. Mahato, Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine, Dr. Bijoy Dutta, Associate Professor, Surgery & Radiology and Dr. Kushal Konwar Sarma, Professor & Head of the Department of Surgery & Radiology who is an internationally renowned  expert on elephants. Dr. R. N. Goswami, Dean of the Faculty of Veterinary Science and Dr. A. Chakroborty, Director of Research (Vety) also addressed the students on the occasion.”

Our supporters of the “Hoof knives for Mahouts-India” program will be pleased to know that the knives are being distributed carefully and are greatly appreciated.  Please watch for future updates from
Dr. Sarma and feel free to cheer for the beautiful wild bull!

April 2013

Dr. Sarma advised he has conducted seven elephant health clinic sessions January through April for mahouts on elephant foot care. The clinic included sessions on using the khukri. which is the traditional knife that a mahout uses to care for his elephant's feet and to cut fodder for the elephant. So far, Dr. Sarama has distributed 52 of these knives and trained more than 52 mahouts, some already owning proper knives.

In addition, Dr. Sarma advised he has conducted a follow-up program for the temple elephants of Ahmedabad (initial vet workshop held in 2011) using AES financial support, and he has also attended to a circus elephant with a fracture in Anand, Gujarat.

December 2012, Goalpara

Dr. Sarma treated a young bull in Goalpara who was badly injured in a fight with other bulls. This was just one of many notifications we received during the year advising us of medical treatment of wild elephants.

March 2012, Kaziranga

At the Regional Asian Elephant Veterinary Workshop in March, Dr. Sarma advised that he had made an observational visit to Ahmedabad. While the health of the elephants appeared a bit better, another health clinic was warranted and was planned as soon as possible.  Dr. Sarma also discussed a second group of elephants he thought could use some assistance. This is a group of elephants he encountered while working on a rhino relocation project in Kaziranga. Dr. Sarma has already organized a veterinary visit at Kaziranga and will be returning to operate on an elephant with an abscess on its back.

Dr. Sarma (wearing a cap) and some of the workshop participants

Dr. Sarma (wearing a cap) and some of the workshop participants

AES will be kept updated on the work done at these clinics, as well as further opportunities for us to help these and other elephant populations. Many elephants reside in areas where their numbers are small and capable veterinarian assistance is not available. In addition, many of the mahouts caring for elephants in these locations lead a very difficult life. We are looking into ways we can also help the people that care for the elephants.

In addition to being a working veterinarian, Dr. Sarma is also a university professor. We feel privileged to have found a man of this talent and dedication to the welfare of Asian elephants. We appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with Dr. Sarma and we are grateful he is willing to put these extra clinics into his already very busy schedule.

Veterinary Workshop in Ahmedabad, India (2011)

In early 2011, we received an inquiry from a veterinarian from the state of Gujarat in Western India, who was faced with treating an extremely ill elephant. Gujarat is a semi-arid state and is not ideal habitat for elephants; however, there are approximately 30 temple elephants living in this area. Unfortunately, due to a lack of exposure and experience, the veterinarians in Gujarat do not have a lot of practical or theoretical knowledge of elephant healthcare and management.

Sadly, it was too late to save this gravely ill elephant, but during the process, we made inquiries among our advisers that resulted in our introduction to Dr. Kushal Konwar Sarma. Dr. Sarma is a professor at Assam Agricultural University in the College of Veterinary Science. His position within the Department of Surgery & Radiology provides opportunities to teach, to participate in research and field work, and to publish his work. Every year, he works with hundreds of captive elephants along with a significant number of wild elephants. Even with his busy schedule, he found time to help us when we contacted him.

Some of the workshop participants

Some of the workshop participants

From our conversations with Dr. Sarma, it was decided that a workshop on the basic skills applicable to elephant healthcare would be helpful for both the elephants and the veterinarians who are involved in providing healthcare to the elephants. On December 25, Dr. Sarma led a one-day workshop on elephant healthcare and managerial practices in the city of Ahmedabad in Gujarat, India. The workshop was held at the Jagannath Temple and was attended by 21 participants from 9 different cities. The lectures in the morning covered important topics such as the biology of elephants, techniques of drug administration, anesthesia protocols, commonly occurring diseases and their management, foot care, and musth management. After lunch, there were hands-on demonstrations of healthcare techniques including routine examinations, sites for injections, estimations of height and weight, and routine foot care. The day concluded with an open discussion where many questions were answered. The participants were very thankful for the opportunity and we are grateful that we could contribute to making the lives of these elephants a little better and the work of the veterinarians a little easier.

We thank Dr. Sarma for taking time out of his busy schedule to share his knowledge and we look forward to working with him in the future. We would also like to thank the veterinary medical firm, Intas Pharmaceuticals Ltd., for their help in making this workshop a reality.