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Projects in India

Filtering by Category: 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.

Financial Support for Mamatha Sathyanarayana to Attend Conference

Chris Reifschneider

In July 2012, Asian Elephant Support was introduced to Mamatha Sathyanarayana, a young biology teacher from Mysore, India. Along with her teaching responsibilities, she is also very involved in wildlife conservation. She facilitates many educational workshops about wildlife and the forest for the local village children.

In 2011, Mamatha received a small grant from the International Elephant Foundation (IEF) to develop a Human-Elephant Coexistence workshop for children in her home state of Karnataka. She submitted an abstract on this workshop to the International Zoo Educators organization, hoping to present her work at the 2012 conference hosted by the Chester Zoo in the United Kingdom. Her abstract was accepted and we were delighted to assist with partial funding to help defray her travel expenses.She was truly grateful to be able to attend this conference and sent us a few pictures and a summary of what this opportunity meant to her. She advised there was record attendance which gave her the opportunity to meet many eminent educators from all over the world. The conference schedule was packed with case studies, papers, workshops, and poster presentations, providing her with a lot of new ideas to take home. Even with the busy schedule, there was time to enjoy the Chester Zoo and an opportunity to see the old historic city of Chester.

Sharing knowledge is invaluable and we feel it is important to share the good conservation work that is being done in Asia with the Western world. Dedicated educators like Mamatha Sathyanarayana, whose passion for wildlife involves teaching both in and out of the classroom, represent a very important element in elephant conservation. With Mamatha’s help, her students will grow into adults with a better understanding of our wonderful planet and its amazing and precious creatures and wild places. Thank you, Mamatha, and our very best wishes to you!

Field Course in Emerging Diseases of Asian Elephants, Kerala, India (November, 2012)

Chris Reifschneider

Asian Elephant Support (AES) continues to facilitate the training of veterinarians in Asia who work with elephants, with funding support from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Asian Elephant Conservation Fund. As a follow-up to the Regional Asian Elephant Veterinary Workshop held in Banda Aceh, Sumatra-Indonesia in March 2012, a group of several veterinarians met in southern India in early November for a week long "Field Course in Emerging Diseases of Asian Elephants". This field course was held in the state of Kerala, and hosted by the Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University in Pookode. Veterinarians from Indonesia, Myanmar, Laos, and from around India participated in the course which addressed veterinary topics such as diagnosis and treatment of diseases in wild and captive elephant populations, and proper sample collection. The lead instructor was Dr. Arun Zachariah, a veterinarian with the Kerala Department of Forests and Wildlife, whose project "Emerging Diseases in the Single Largest Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus indicus) Population, Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, South India" was also supported in part by AES.

During the course, veterinarians presented information about emerging diseases of elephants in their regions, shared experiences, and learned laboratory techniques to assess samples for certain specific diseases such as the Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpes Virus (EEHV), a highly fatal disease which has been confirmed in populations of captive and wild elephants around Asia.

Taking advantage of the time in this region, the veterinarians were also treated to some local field trips: to the Bandipur elephant camp where the efficient southern India Forest Department elephant camp management system was observed and discussed, and to the Wyanad Wildlife Sanctuary where the group was lucky to view wild elephants.

The experience exchange continues, as the veterinarians discussed the need for comprehensive reporting throughout the region, and agreed to develop guidelines to help field veterinarians collect appropriate samples for laboratory examinations. Such guidelines would help determine if certain elephant diseases are indeed emerging in populations around Asia.

We thank you for the financial support that allows us to help make these educational opportunities happen. 

Emerging Diseases and Conservation in India (2010 - 2012)

Chris Reifschneider

We are pleased to tell you about our involvement in a very important research project and to tell you a story of teamwork that AES believes is so crucial to the future of Asian elephants.

The goals of this research project are to identify emerging diseases and their prevalence in the largest global population of Asian elephants, and to determine the impact of these diseases for long-term conservation. These goals will be met through (a) assessing health-related aspects of the free-ranging elephant population (for example, stress, morbidity, and mortality), (b) evaluating the presence of infectious and non-infectious diseases and their dynamics in the elephant population, and (c) identifying risk factors and possible solutions to mitigate impact.

Charging bull in study area (95% of males are tuskers in this area)

Charging bull in study area (95% of males are tuskers in this area)

The study area is located in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve (NBR) in Southern India, and occupies parts of three states: Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Kerala. The study area has an estimated 3900 to 4800 elephants. This population is genetically quite distinct and unique in that 95% of males are tuskers, compared to only 5-7% of males in the Sri Lanka population and 50% of males in the Eastern Indian population.

Elephant herd in degraded and fragmented habitat in summer

Elephant herd in degraded and fragmented habitat in summer

Many studies in the Nilgiri Biosphere show the elephant population in this region under ever increasing pressure, with degraded and fragmented habitat posing the biggest threat. Summer forest fires coupled with delayed monsoon seasons can result in greater migration and thus increased instances of human/elephant conflict.

Adult elephants are not vulnerable to top predators like tigers and leopards. Thus it is important to study the disease dynamics in this species. Anthrax, Elephant Herpes Virus, and tuberculosis are among the diseases identified, clearly indicating the necessity for an understanding of the emerging diseases in the population.

The research is being led by two veterinarians highly experienced in elephant diseases:

  • Dr. Arun Zachariah, Assistant Forest Veterinary Officer of the Wildlife Disease Research Laboratory, Department of Forest and Wildlife, Kerala, India.
  • Dr. N. Kalaivanan, Assistant Forest Veterinary Surgeon, Department of Forest and Wildlife, Tamil Nadu, India

These two investigators bring a wealth of experience to this project. In addition, international advisors will partner to advise on ecology and genetics of wildlife diseases.

Asian Elephant Support is excited to play a part in helping this research get underway. In addition to AES financial contribution, this was our first grant submission to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Asian Elephant Conservation Fund. AES helped write the grant application and will serve as the grant administrators for this project. The USFWS and AES have provided funding for project support staff, transportation, research station costs, lab analysis fees, and medical supplies. The initially funded study period will run for one year.

We would be remiss if we did not express our sincere appreciation to Heidi Riddle, Riddle's Elephant & Wildlife Sanctuary, for bringing this project to our attention, and to the staff at USFWS for their patience and assistance in securing this funding for Drs. Zachariah and Kalaivanan. Working together we can make a difference for the future of the Asian elephant.

It will be exciting to follow the findings of this important field work, and we will share updates as they are available. Please contact us to put your name on our email list for news, and please consider making a donation now so that we can remain in a position to help other projects that need support in their work for the future of Asian elephants.

Thank you for your Support!

Photos provided by Dr. Arun Zachariah.

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.

Each life is precious, not only to the population, but to the future of the species. Please consider making a donation to AES today to help support additional research and efforts that are needed to protect the next generation of Asian elephants.

With your help, we are improving the lives of elephants and mahouts across Asia.