In September 2010, we announced that we had been awarded a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Asian Elephant Conservation Fund to support a research project in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve in South India. The goals of this project were to identify emerging diseases, their prevalence in the largest global population of Asian elephants, and to determine the impact of these diseases for long-term conservation. Please see http://asianelephantsupport.org/emerging-diseases-and-conservation-in-india.asp for more information about this research.
Fast forward to November 2012…
Two years of intense field and laboratory work have brought to the forefront new observations about diseases in wild Asian elephant populations. Several diseases were identified during the course of this study.
One of the diseases identified is the Endotheliotropic Elephant Herpes Virus (EEHV). This study provides the first report of EEHV in free ranging Asian elephants. Although only a few cases were confirmed, the findings of EEHV in free ranging elephants, and the scientific data generated, can help to identify the cause of EEHV emergence in captive populations. This research may also shed light on the evolution of the virus, which has a high mortality rate in elephants.
Like all good research, we have a better understanding of certain issues, but have been left with a long list of questions. In this case, there are serious questions that can and need to be addressed. Even these initial findings will impact our efforts to conserve Asian elephants.
More research is needed on how the free ranging elephant population has been affected by emerging diseases such as EEHV. As this free ranging population shares habitat with captive elephants, livestock, and human settlements, there is an important need for long-term wildlife health monitoring of the elephant populations. There is also a need to determine the extent that environmental factors, such as sharing space with livestock, contribute to the emergence of disease of Asian elephants.
Knowledge and good science represent the real hope for the future of this magnificent species. Obviously, there is much more work to be done. To this end, AES is continuing to partner with scientists, veterinarians, and other organizations concerned about Asian elephant health. AES will focus support on continuing the study of EEHV in Asian elephant populations around the world.