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Projects in India

Filtering by Tag: Asian elephant

Field Update from Dr. Sarma

Vanessa Gagne

A field update from Dr. Kushal Sarma:

I have just returned from a hectic trip. An elephant corridor was mistakenly allotted for an industry.  The fallout: a two month old calf falls into a 12’ ditch dug for construction of a shed.  The mother tries to rescue the baby and also falls in.  Another female comes to their rescue and also falls into the ditch.  The third elephant was not injured much and when machinery sliced off one side of the ditch, she was able to move out.  The mother of the calf had head injuries and was unconscious until I arrived.  Triamcinolone acetonide, mannitol and neurotropic vitamins did not help.  It was determined her lumbar spine was broken and she had a cerebral concussion.  She could not be saved.  The calf was rescued and sent to a rescue center as he needed to be fed formula.

The following two days I organized health camps for 14 private elephants: 4 in Sonitpur district and 10 tourist elephants Kalita’s camp at Kaziranga National Park. There were two minor operations as well as the regular deworming and vaccinations.”

While we wish all field updates had happy outcomes that sadly is not the reality of the Asian elephant in range countries today.   We are happy to be able to help Dr. Kushal and all the caring and dedicated veterinarians we work with – who are there to help, regardless the situation – and thank you so very much for your support!


Funding for Mayapur Temple Elephants' Medical Care

Vanessa Gagne

Ms. Dasi with Laksmipriya 

Ms. Dasi with Laksmipriya 

AES is pleased to announce we were able to secure funding to Dr. Sarma for the continuing medical care of the Mayapur Temple elephants Laksmipriya and Bishnupriya under the care of Ms. Hrimati Dasi.  The two female elephants arrived to the temple separately some time ago.  Ms. Dasi employs three mahouts to care for the elephants as well as herself.  Dr. Sarma has taught her how to do some medical care as well as footwork, which is essential to elephant health.  

Ms. Dasi performing foot work on one of the girls

Ms. Dasi performing foot work on one of the girls

The two girls have been provided with a well rounded diet and are able to forage the area around the temple to graze which has brought them into healthy weights.  We look forward to more updates from Ms. Dasi and Dr. Sarma throughout the next year as he stops in for their routine check ups.  

Dr. Sarma, with a smile that only an elephant can give you.  

Dr. Sarma, with a smile that only an elephant can give you.  

2015 Sonepur Mela

Vanessa Gagne

Billboard advertising the Sonepur Mela

Billboard advertising the Sonepur Mela

A GATHERING OF ELEPHANTS: The Sonepur Mela, Bihar, India

The Sonepur Mela, also known as the Harihar Kshetra Mela, is held every year during November-December and is Asia’s largest cattle fair.  The major attraction is the trading of livestock such as horses, bulls, buffaloes, camels, dogs, and birds.  Elephants are also a special attraction of the Mela.  

Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) has been conducting health camps for captive elephants in the town of Sonepur since 2001 and AES was able to help support the 2015 health care camp.  Attendance has been spiraling downward from 92 elephants in 2001 to only 14 in 2015, a decline of 84% in 14 years. This is mainly due to increasing regulations regarding the movement, sale, and trading of captive elephants.  

During the Mela, WTI will de-worm all the elephants, treat any minor wounds, and give the mahouts instructions on foot care.  Data is also collected each year to record the status of elephants participating in the Mela.  Responses from owners and mahouts showed that the average length of time a mahout cares for the same elephant is 4.18 years, which is not considered sufficient for good bonding between mahout and elephant.  However, all elephants were reported to be obedient and none of elephants had any history of killing or injuring a mahout.  Of the data collected, one was a temple elephant, four worked in the tourist industry, and six were unemployed.  All elephants had some sort of shelter at their area of residence, both day and night.  All except one was off tether for at least some portion of each day and the mahouts claimed all the elephants are walked during the day.  Only one elephant was kept in a group of more than one elephant, 11 have some opportunity to interact with other elephants, and three could not interact with other elephants.

Mahouts take measurements on a bull to estimate weight

Mahouts take measurements on a bull to estimate weight

While the results of the information gathered at the Mela leave us with at least as many questions as answers provided, it is important to track such statistics as we consider the current status and future of India’s magnificent Asian elephants.  If you would like to read more the report from the 2015 Sonepur Mela, please visit our website here.  Our thanks to YOU, our donors, for supporting these efforts.


Visit to Dr. Kushal and Elephant/Tiger Workshop in Kerala

Vanessa Gagne

February 1st-4th, 2016, Asian Elephant Support’s president, Linda Reifschneider, attended the Regional Asian Elephant and Tiger Veterinary Workshop at Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University in Pookode, Wayanad, Kerala, India.  This event was hosted by the Centre for Wildlife Studies, Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University, in collaboration with Parambikulam Tiger Conservation Foundation, Forest and Wildlife Department, Government of Kerala, and Asian Elephant Support.  The workshop is supported by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services Asian Elephant Conservation Fund.

All workshop participants

All workshop participants

Veterinary expertise is crucial to conservation efforts, and this workshop provided the opportunity to share experiences regionally, provide practical training, build local and regional capacity in elephant and tiger veterinary care, and enhance veterinary expertise needed for effective conservation.

The workshop looked at wildlife health from the ecosystem perspective and afforded the opportunity to discuss topics such as disease spillover from humans and/or livestock to wildlife, emerging diseases and/or disease prevalence, as well as reducing stressors in the environment.

In addition to meeting and hearing from some experienced elephant veterinarians previously unknown to AES, it was also very interesting to listen to those veterinarians working with tigers in range countries. It makes one stop to think that this majestic creature is now facing yet another challenge as habitat loss brings domestic canines into proximity, offering up the very real threats of distemper and rabies.

Dr. Arun Zachariah, one of the veterinarians in India AES has funded, co-chaired this event with AES consultant Heidi Riddle.  In addition, Dr. Zachariah presented on emerging diseases in Asian elephants and a second presentation on post-mortem techniques in Asian elephants and tigers.  You may find the official report here:

Dr. Christopher Stremme presented on the work he is doing in Sumatra (work AES continues to help fund) and also participated with Dr. Dennis Schmitt in a demonstration of ultra-sonography in Asian elephants.  Dr. Khajohnpat Boonprasert (“Dr. Yeaw”) who has helped us help wildlife department veterinarians in Vietnam, recounted the work being done at The Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang, Thailand.  And Dr. Zaw Min Oo, who AES has worked with in Myanmar, also presented.

Dr. Meenakshi Nagendran, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services, discussed the global population status and conservation of programs for both Asian elephants and tigers and Sri. Ajay Desai, IUCN Asian Elephant Specialist Group, discussed human/wildlife conflict relative to Asian elephants and tigers and a second presentation on the ecology and evolution of Asian elephants.

The papers session ended with an evening showcasing amazing demonstrations of sand art, followed by a traditional fire dance.

The workshop ended with a planned field visit to the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, which has wild tigers, elephants, and other wildlife.  Dr. N. Kalaivanan led the field visit to the Mudumalai elephant camp, sharing camp management protocols with workshop participants from outside the area, as well as introducing us to camp staff and some of the camp elephants.  Dr. Kalaivanan also gave a presentation during the workshop on the chemical immobilization and translocation of Asian elephants.

Learning…..sharing…..networking…..  It is efforts such as this that grow long past ‘the event’.  Having not only another email address, but knowing the face and the expertise of that new contact to share ideas with and ask questions of – this is what helps move the care and conservation of Asian elephants – and tigers! – forward.  Your support well invested and for which we thank you most sincerely!

2014 Sonepur Mela

Vanessa Gagne

Sonepur is a small town in the State of Bihar in eastern India.  Every year, in November or December, the town holds its annual Mela, a fair held at the confluence of the Ganges and Gandak rivers.  The Sonepur Mela is Asia’s largest cattle fair, the main attraction being the trading of livestock such as horses, bullocks, buffaloes, camels, dogs, and birds.  Elephants are also a special attraction at the Mela and some of the largest numbers are traded here.  

Since 2001, Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) has offered an elephant health camp at the Mela, conducted in association with the Department of Environment and Forests, Bihar, and with financial support from various organizations.  In 2014, AES was pleased to support this effort.  The number of elephants being brought to the Mela reflects the overall diminishing number of Asian elephants.  Until the late 1980s, as many as 800-1,000 elephants would be brought to the Mela for trading and display. Since 2001, the number has been under 100 and the last five years the number has held steady around 40 elephants.  More stringent regulations on elephant ownership and transit may also contribute to this decline in attendance.

WTI deworms all elephants at the Mela and offers other medicines and treatments, such as foot care, as needed.  The average age of the mahouts in attendance was 40.89 including the eldest at 70 with around 50 years of experience and the youngest at 22 with already 10 years of experience.  All mahouts have handled more than one elephant in their career, with around 63% of them handling between 5 and 20 elephants.  On the average, elephants get a new mahout every three years; not a sufficient length of time for good bonding between the elephant and mahout per WTI.  The mahouts spend from 6 to 24 hours daily with their elephants, a good third of them spending the entire day with their elephant.  The Mela affords WTI the important opportunity to introduce mahouts and owners to western medicines and husbandry procedures. And the data collected is helpful in assessing and tracking the elephants that are changing ownership during this annual fair.

Elephants on the Line - Bhutan and India

Chris Reifschneider



Part of the AES mission statement is “to increase awareness and offer support for human-elephant coexistence to help protect the needs and future of the Asian elephants”.  Over the past couple of years, AES has supported Mamatha Sathyanarayana,  a high school Biology teacher from Mysore, India.   Along with her teaching responsibilities, she is also involved with wildlife conservation. She facilitates workshops about wildlife co-existence (elephants, in particular)  for the local village children.  In October 2014 we had the opportunity to support Mamatha to attend and facilitate educational workshops in Bhutan. The North East India and Bhutan border is home to a sizable population of Asian elephants.  Elephants on the Line (EoL) is an organization that is collaborating between Bhutan, India and US partners to address the major human-elephant conflict issues in this area.   In 2014 the focus of EoL is the Udalguri District of Assam, India, which has one of the highest HEC rates in all of Asia. The following is Mamatha’s account of the workshops:

Elephants on the Line Education Workshops

Bhutan and Assam, India, October 2014

Role playing exercise

Role playing exercise

Elephants on the Line (EoL) is a trans-boundary, community based project that has been initiated to help local communities in Northern Assam and Southern Bhutan deal with human elephant conflict by providing awareness activities and encouraging villagers to voluntarily participate in conservation activities. From October 3-5, a two-day education workshop was held at the Royal Manas National Park in Bhutan. The workshop was organized by the EoL project and was attended by about 20 staff from the Bhutan Forest Department, as well as some volunteers from the Assam EoL project.

During the workshop there were presentations about the status of elephants in Bhutan and in Assam, elephant behavior, causes of Human-Elephant conflict (HEC), and addressing conflict through coexistence.  I led the workshop components that specifically addressed coexistence and used various activities to share information and engage participants.  The activities included having participants develop short dramas, participate in a role play situation, and learning how to use energizers to refocus participants’ attention and teach. While at the Park all participants also enjoyed an evening session about elephant husbandry and care with the camp elephants that are used to patrol the park.

Workshop participants

Workshop participants

From Oct 6-8, a second workshop was held in Orang National Park, Assam (India).  The area affected is Udalguri District; there have been many human casualties from HEC as well as some elephant casualties in this region. In this workshop all of the participants were local villagers who are directly affected by HEC.  The workshop started with presentations about the causes of HEC, as well as the use of maps and GPS units to identify elephant habitat.  We also presented a few activities related to coexistence and the participants were very engaged. 

AES would like to thank Mamatha for her hard work for Asian elephants in India.  We are proud to support local people that are so dedicated to saving this amazing species and finding ways for elephants and humans to co-exist. 

Elephant Day in Assam, India

Vanessa Gagne

Half-way around the world, Dr. Kushal Sarma also celebrated Elephant Day. He held the event at the Assam Agricultural University on September 21st.  The event had to be scheduled early due to school closures, but we don’t think the elephants minded, at least not the two that took part in this celebration, as they were treated to sugarcane, banana stems, and soaked gram (a popular legume found in many Indian dishes)!

The celebration started with a demonstration of elephant healthcare procedures followed by an exhibition of elephant literature, lectures, and a video.  The program started at 7 a.m. and lasted until 1:30 p.m. and included tea and snacks for the participants.  The four mahouts received Asian Elephant Support shirts (see the pictures) and the 35 participating veterinary students received a copy of Dr. Sarma’s book, Elephant Care, and a participation certificate.

Thank you, Dr. Sarma, for providing your students this extra learning opportunity!

Partnering for pachyderms

Vanessa Gagne

A Caring Collaboration for Asian Elephants

 Our story
Asian Elephant Support (AES) and Hope Elephants are working together to improve the lives of elephants living in the wild and in human care. 

Hope Elephants is a 501(c) 3 not-for-profit organization that is bringing a small number of retired or injured Asian elephants to Maine from circus herds for care and rehabilitation. Hope Elephants is also an educational destination where visitors, especially school-age children, have an opportunity to see, hear, and interact with the animals as a platform to present the big issues surrounding conservation, habitat destruction, and ecology.

Asian Elephant Support is also a 501(c) 3 not-for-profit organization that supports the care and conservation of elephants inAsian range countries.  AES’s mission is to:

  •  Provide financial assistance and support for the health, welfare and conservation of elephants in Asian range countries.
  • Provide educational opportunities and supplies to those who care for captive Asian elephants in range countries.
  • Increase awareness and offer support for human-elephant coexistence to help protect the needs and future of the Asian elephant.

By combining efforts, resources, and expertise, we can accomplish more and make a greater impact for elephants in Asian range countries.

The impact
This project will directly benefit the wild and captive population of elephants in Assam, India.  Even though elephants play an important role in the culture and religion of India, there are relatively few individuals with elephant veterinary expertise.   Often the elephants live in remote locations and are difficult to reach, which makes responding to emergency situations more challenging. 

AES has been workingwith Dr. Kushal Sarma since 2011 to improve the lives of the elephants in Assam.  Because of his knowledge and willingness, Dr. Sarma is called to respond to health related elephant emergencies when needed.  As human-elephant conflict increases, so does the number of emergency situations.

What we need
The funds raised in this project will be used to support Dr. Sarma’s Elephant Healthcare and Welfare- Emergency Response Program in Assam, India. By being able to respond to emergency situations, the wild and captive elephants will receive the desperately needed veterinary care they deserve.

Our minimum ask is $2000 and any additional funds will be used to provide medicine and supplies for Dr. Sarma’s Elephant Health Care Clinics throughout Assam.

We will be sending out more information about this soon, but feel free to visit our website if you can't wait to learn more!

Hoof Knife Campaign Results

Vanessa Gagne

In October 2012, Asian Elephant Support (AES) and the Elephant Managers Association (EMA) joined forces to raise money to purchase local traditional knives (khukri) for mahouts (elephant keepers) in Assam, India.  These knives are an integral part of the mahouts' daily lives as they use them to cut fodder for elephants and trim the elephants' nails or pads.

AES and the EMA would like to sincerely thank everyone for their generous donations to the “Hoof Knives for Mahouts - India” project. This program raised $1,755.52 to purchase these local knives for mahouts to enable them to improve the care of their elephants. A special THANK YOU to the elephant staff and AAZK members at the Seneca Park Zoo in Rochester, NY, who raised $720.52 for this project!    

Regardless of what job you are doing, everyone can appreciate having the right tools to get it done. This program is a great way to demonstrate that every donation, big or small, can make a difference for elephants and the people that care for them, in Asian range countries.

With your help we are making a difference! Stay tuned for more updates from the field on this project.

Dr. Sarma teaching mahouts how to use the khukri

Dr. Sarma teaching mahouts how to use the khukri

Of Elephants and Man

Chris Reifschneider

Documenting Indigenous Traditional Knowledge on the Asian Elephant in Captivity

For nearly 3500 years, Asian elephants have lived and worked with humans. Today, approximately 15,000 elephants are housed in zoos, circuses, temples, government camps, orphanages, and with private owners. Traditionally, select men in range countries developed the skills and understanding necessary to become the mahouts (care givers) of these highly esteemed animals. Today, however, the younger generation is drawn to urban areas and the careers they pursue will offer more financial rewards with less physical effort and risk. While many references and texts are available that address current elephant husbandry issues, the traditional knowledge that is transferred verbally from one generation to the next is disappearing.

Asian Nature Conservation Foundation, Indian Institute of Science, has completed their project report "Of Elephants and Man: Documenting Indigenous Traditional Knowledge on the Asian Elephant in Captivity" This report documents the relationship between the elephant and its keeper for prosperity. The in-depth knowledge these men have of the species in general, may provide valuable insight into the mitigation of human-elephant conflict issues.   

Asian Elephant Support is honored to have assisted with the funding for this project because of the preservation of knowledge it will provide and the potential conservation applications.  

This report will only be available for a limited time on the Asian Nature Conservation Foundation website here:

Emerging Diseases and Conservation in India Research Report

Vanessa Gagne

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 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.

Wild elephant populations are experiencing loses due to EEHV.  This picture of a mom guarding her dying calf   sends a powerful message.  This is not just another statistic: it’s another lost life  .    

Wild elephant populations are experiencing loses due to EEHV.  This picture of a mom guarding her dying calf sends a powerful message.  This is not just another statistic: it’s another lost life.





Update from India

Vanessa Gagne

We first introduced Dr. Kushal Sarma in our February 2012 newsletter as the veterinarian who organized the one-day veterinary workshop in the city of Ahmedabad, India. At the Regional Asian Elephant Veterinary Workshop in March, our president and Dr. Sarma discussed a follow up visit to this location.  Recently 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 is definitely warranted and will be held as soon as possible.  At the workshop they 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 teaching at the workshop

Dr. Sarma teaching at the workshop

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.

Dr. Sarma demonstrating proper foot care

Dr. Sarma demonstrating proper foot care

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.

We will keep you updated as this work progresses and thank you, Dr. Sarma!