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Projects with Education, Travel, and Research Sponsorships

Mahout Workshop and Exchange Program

Chris Rico

Meeting, Learning, Sharing, & Knowing There are Others 'Out There' You Can Reach Out To...

This is what a Mahout Workshop is all about!

A mahout is the #1 person in a captive elephant’s life. Often there will be a close ‘second’ as backstop. These are the people in whose hands are entrusted the lives of these majestic creatures.
In 2006, the first mahout workshop was held in Sumatra, Indonesia. We could see a need for getting these people together. Often mahouts spend most of their lives in quiet, rural, sparsely populated areas, and sometimes with few, if any, other elephants and mahouts nearby. We were not sure if our invitation to attend this first workshop would be accepted or ignored, but the event ended up quite successful and proved these individuals do care, want to learn, and appreciate the ability to network with others sharing their career.
Fast forward to 2017 to the 8th mahout workshop, which was held with an additional dimension added: two mahouts from government camps in India attended the workshop in Sumatra. Mr. Vasantha from the Mattigodu Elephant Camp and Mr. Nayaz Pasha from the Dubare Elephant Camp, as well as Dr. Mamatha, from India, were all able to go. For the two gentlemen, it was their first time travelling out of the country and by plane! AES has funded the multiple workshops she has held for three government camps.

Please take a moment to read Dr. Mamatha’s report. It will bring the reality of caring for Asian elephants and helping their caregivers into focus for you and includes many pictures. And THANK YOU, for your financial support – every dollar is put into our projects and you are the one making these good moments happen.

Asian EEHV Working Group

Chris Rico

In November 2016, AES president Linda Reifschneider attended the second meeting of the Asian EEHV Working Group, a group of veterinarians, elephant managers, researchers, and mahouts who are committed to providing the best care possible for elephants.  In our February 2017 Newsletter we gave an overview of Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesvirus (EEHV)  and its devastating impact on Asian elephants, especially young calves, worldwide.

However, we are Asian Elephant Support, and the meeting was an eye-opening but honest wakeup call about how very much needs to be done throughout the Asian range countries to prevent deaths due to EEHV.  There the largest number of Asian elephant calves is born and, tragically, many are dying without proper diagnosis of EEHV, much less the needed equipment, supplies, and training - not just of veterinarians but also of mahouts and owners – to enable them to both identify the disease and be able to initiate treatment in the very narrow window for possible survival.

Polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) machine

Polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) machine

To this end, AES has made their first commitment of $3,000 to cover the airfare of six participants in a three-day training workshop at Kasetsart University in Thailand.  This laboratory is well-equipped and easily accessible to participants traveling internationally from the range countries.  The workshop will provide training in the molecular diagnostics of EEHV, as well as educating the attendees in sample collecting and planning for EEHV cases.

The second phase of this project is to support the travel of two or three of the participants from the first training workshop to additional Southeast Asian countries to implement secondary workshops for more wildlife health professionals.  This approach will increase the region’s capacity to continue providing training in EEHV diagnostic techniques, allowing for the training of others in their own labs.  To date, individuals from Kasetsart University (Thailand), National Trust for Nature Conservation (Nepal), and University of Peradeniya (Sri Lanka) are willing to serve as secondary trainers.  They plan on training a total of 15 additional researchers in ten labs in Asia to perform the molecular diagnostics for EEHV.

Laboratory equipment

Laboratory equipment

Only 30,000 to 50,000 Asian elephants remain in the wild, scattered across fragmented habitats in 13 Asian countries.  EEHV is a significant threat to the survival of this vulnerable species.  The formation of the Asian EEHV Working Group together with the National Elephant Herpes Laboratory (NEHL) providing training, chemical reagents, and diagnostic equipment in Southeast Asia – with the collaborative support of AES and other organizations – is a critical step toward successfully confronting this disease in Asian range countries.  Make no mistake; it won’t be easy or quick.  But almost 100 cases have been confirmed in Asia to date, with many more deaths suspected but unconfirmed because of the difficulty of diagnosing EEHV in wild elephants and the lack of testing capacity in the range countries.    After accurate diagnosis in the lab comes training in the field, for owners and mahouts to be able to identify and respond in the small window this disease offers for possible survival.  

AES will continue to help with funding as applicable and possible.  To this end, any supporters who would want to make a gift to AES specifically toward this effort can note on their checks or PayPal donations “EEHV”.  Thank you!

EEHV Working Group

Chris Rico

In 1995, Kumari, at 16 month-old Asian elephant died after a short illness at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo.  Zoo pathologists, Drs. Richard Montali and Laura Richman, soon discovered that a previously unidentified herpesvirus, later called Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesvirus (EEHV) was responsible.

Zoo pathologists, veterinarians, researchers, zoos and private owners have all come together to investigate the transmission and epidemiology, develop better treatments, and create a possible vaccine to save elephants from this too often fatal disease.  As in any instance when a totally unknown disease is first identified, many initial assumptions were suggested and proved to be dead ends.  The disease has nothing to do with Asian and African elephants being housed together, or transported. This is not a disease found only in Western institutions.  It is a natural herpesvirus of elephants, and is most likely found in all elephants.  (Most species, including humans, have herpesviruses associated with them that have evolved over millions of years to co-exist with their host.)  In fact, Asian Elephant Support has helped fund Dr. Arun Zachariah, professor and field veterinarian at the Kerala Veterinary and Animal Science University, Southern India, who first confirmed instances of EEHV in wild populations.  He has become a resource for EEHV testing and information for elephant colleagues in other Southeast Asian countries.

The numbers to date are not only horrific but represent dashed hopes for the life of a new calf and broken hearts among their caregivers.

These are confirmed numbers:
North America (back to about 1980): 34 cases, 10 survivors, 24 fatalities = 71% fatality rate.
Europe: 25 deaths from EEHV of 43 total deaths, so 60% of all Asian calf deaths – the largest single cause of death of elephants born in Europe since 1995.
Asian Range Countries: In human care: 74 cases documented, 7 survivors, 67 fatalities = 90% fatality rate.  In the wild, 12 fatal cases documented.  The actual numbers are probably much higher as testing is just starting up; many more cases are suspected but haven’t been tested yet.  Also, the cases in the wild are usually missed because no one is there to see it and collect samples, although Dr. Zachariah has shown that it is possible to follow wild elephant herds and conduct field necropsies.

There is some amazing talent and experience at Smithsonian’s National Zoo, John Hopkins University, and Baylor College of Medicine – to name a few – that are dedicated to saving today’s elephants that become victims of EEHV.  In addition, many of the zoos and private owners are fervent supporters of this research and good science.  We applaud and appreciate their efforts on behalf of all Asian elephants.

As we are Asian Elephant Support, our next newsletter will focus on EEHV in Asian range countries.  We will look more closely at the work that needs to be done: the laboratory requirements and training needs that so desperately beg for attention and support.  Please be sure to look for how AES plans to give assistance and, as always, it is with our thanks for your support that we are able to do this work.

Collaboration for Education & Elephants: Dr. Zachariah and Dr. Stremme

Vanessa Gagne

Asian Elephant Support is fortunate to be able to work with two very talented and dedicated veterinarians:  Dr. Christopher Stremme and Dr. Arun Zachariah.

Dr. Stremme teaches at the Veterinary College of Unisyah University in Banda Aceh, Sumatra-Indonesia and he invited Dr. Zachariah to visit the University from September 23-25, 2016.  Dr. Zachariah is a senior veterinary officer with the Kerala Department of Forests and Wildlife, as well as an assistant Professor for wildlife studies at the Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences Universsity, Pookode, India.  He is also a leading scientist on EEHV in wild and captive elephants in Asia and specializes in wildlife disease ecology and genetics.

The first day included meetings and informal discussions between Dr. Zachariah, the Dean of the Veterinary College, several professors, and lecturers. They discussed EEHV and several other wildlife diseases, their potential impact, and their importance for endangered species conservation.  In addition, Dr.  Zachariah visited the College’s laboratory facilities and gave advice on how it could be utilized for different wildlife disease studies.

On the second day, Dr. Zachariah conducted a seminar on wild Asian elephant and tiger diseases.  The topics included:

  • Wildlife disease ecology and their conservation impact
  • Current and emerging diseases in wild Asian elephants and tigers
  • Post mortem procedures in Asian elephants and tigers

The seminar was attended by a total of 67 participants including veterinary students, Veterinary College lecturers, professors, and BKSDA (Nature Conservation Agency- Indonesia) veterinarians.

AES strongly believes in collaboration between individuals and facilities dedicated to helping elephants!  Being able to help fund the work of veterinarians such as Dr. Stremme and Dr. Zachariah is possible because of your support. Our thanks to you for helping to make such efforts possible!

Dr. Aung Myint Htun - Asian Elephant Workshop in Thailand

Vanessa Gagne

This past summer we were happy to help Dr. Htun participate in the Asian Elephant Health, Reproduction and Breeding Management Workshop in Thailand.  The workshop was divided into three portions: one week online, one week examinations, and lastly, one week hands-on practicals in Thailand.  Dr. Htun was able to learn about foot care in addition to ultrasound checks for pregnant elephant cows.  


Human-Elephant Conflict in Asia

Vanessa Gagne

Recently Asian Elephant Support collaborated with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services’ Asian Elephant Conservation Fund to produce a document titled “Human-Elephant Conflict in Asia”.

Human-elephant conflict (HEC) is a complex interaction between humans and elephants, and represents the detrimental impact both species have on each other. For the purpose of this document, the use of the term ‘HEC’ implies the detrimental impact that elephants have on humans. This takes the form of crop raiding and property damage, and also involves manslaughter and injury to people. The most common negative interaction between human and elephants in this context is crop raiding. Consequently crop raiding is the most referred to aspect when HEC is mentioned in the document.

HEC has been identified as a major threat to elephant conservation by all Asian elephant range countries; they all experience HEC and loss of human life due to elephants. Elephant deaths due to retaliatory killing by people have been reported by most range countries. HEC adversely affects the people who live in and around elephant habitat. It also adversely affects elephants and undermines efforts to conserve the species. The greatest danger HEC poses to elephants is the antagonism it generates among local communities towards elephant conservation. If elephant conservation is to succeed in Asia, then HEC will have to be resolved, or the conflict minimized to the point where it becomes tolerable to local communities.

There are two main constraints in planning and implementing HEC mitigation; one is the absence of a problem analysis guide that helps people work through the complexities of HEC to determine the multiple levels at which different types of interventions are needed. Second is the absence of a comprehensive information source on the different methods (interventions) available for conflict mitigation and how they need to be implemented. Additionally, in the absence of such a document, gaps in our collective conservation knowledge cannot be determined.

The goal of this project was to review existing HEC mitigation efforts in all 13 Asian elephant range countries by reviewing documents, research papers, and meeting reports about HEC, synthesizing the information, and preparing a comprehensive guide that identifies the best approaches and methods to mitigating HEC and acts as the basis for planning and implementing HEC mitigation efforts. This document also effectively channels research to cover gaps in knowledge on HEC and its mitigation across Asia.

The document can be downloaded here:

The Regional Captive Asian Elephant Working Group Meeting

Vanessa Gagne

The meeting was held at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Chiang Mai University, June 11-12, 2015.  Asian Elephant Support was delighted to be able to fund Dr. Vanthinh Pham’s attendance at this meeting.  You may recall most recently AES, with the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation, sent Dr. Khajohnpat Boonprasert and two senior mahouts from The Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang, Thailand, to Vietnam to assist Dr. Pham in the treatment of the young wild bull, Jun, whose foot was badly damaged by a snare.  The mahouts also helped demonstrate to the Vietnam mahouts, who had little experience with wild elephants, how to help calm and better manage Jun for safe and effective medical care.

The meeting at the Chiang Mai University addressed establishing a comprehensive strategy and long-term plan for improving the management systems within elephant tourist camps across Southeast Asia.  Attendees also had the opportunity to share and learn from each other’s experiences and promote the best practices in elephant tourist camp management, and to build a network of captive Asian elephant experts who can work towards the goal of establishing and monitoring improved management systems in tourist camps.

Dr. Pham found the presentations that addressed setting up medical buildings with laboratories, health care, feeding and training for elephants, as well as mahout training most informative and was able to return to the Dak Lak Elephant Conservation Center in Vietnam with many useful ideas.

We at AES believe assisting those helping elephants develop friendships with others doing likewise is an important way to improve both the care the elephants receive as well as the knowledge and confidence so important for the veterinarian and mahout.  We couldn’t do this without you.  Thank you for your confidence and support!

Paper on Tuberculosis (Myobacteria tuberculosis) in Elephants

Vanessa Gagne

Our advisor, Ellen Wiedner DVM, edited a paper called Recommendations for the Diagnosis, Treatment and Management of Tuberculosis in Elephants in Human Care.  It has been found that while TB can pass from human to elephant and vice versa, it is only through contact after working closely together for a long period of time.  According to the paper transmission has occurred for as long as humans and Asian elephants have worked together; for thousands of years.  The initiative to compose this paper and compile its findings was brought upon by the USDA so that people working with elephants could have easier access to information on how to deal with tuberculosis in their elephants.  You may read the full publication here:

Elephant Health and Management in Asia

Vanessa Gagne

This past year in 2014 one of our advisors, Heidi Riddle, co-authored a paper about the importance of identifying health issues in Asian elephants as seen by their veterinarians.  It is important to understand how difficult it is to find data on captive Asian elephant management throughout their range countries.  That being said the authors of this paper delved into what could potentially help both mahouts and their elephants receive the best care.  When both mahout and elephant are able to access medical care, that is a mahout is healthy and can provide for his charge, both individuals will thrive.  Finding solutions to this little known problem will certainly allow for a future with elephants to flourish.  Follow the link below to read the paper:

AES helps to further a veterinarian's education

Chris Reifschneider

Mr. Pham Van Thinh, a veterinarian from the Daklak Elephant Conservation Center in Vietnam, attended the "Asian Elephant Health, Reproduction and Breeding Management" course, which took place in Sri Lanka this summer. This training course was conducted by the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine & Animal Science of the University of Peradeniya, in collaboration with the Royal Veterinary College of the University of London, UK, the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine of Chiang Mai University, Thailand, and the National Elephant Institute in Lampang, Thailand. The partner institutes were the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC), Sri Lanka, Department of National Zoological Gardens (DNZG), Sri Lanka, and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, USA.

The course focused on the management, nutrition, health, reproduction and breeding of Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) with additional discussions on local and regional conservation issues. It had two components: a stand-alone distance learning (online-based) course of 6 weeks duration (12th May – 10th June 2014) that participants completed from their home countries; and a hands-on practical training course of one-week (7th – 11th July 2014) that was conducted on-site in Sri Lanka. The on-site training was conducted at the University of Peradeniya, Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage, Elephant Transit Home and Uda-Walawe National Park.

The course was attended by 22 participants from Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Italy, Lao, Malaysia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, United Kingdom, United States and Vietnam. Asian Elephant Support was proud to sponsor Dr Van Tinh Pham from Vietnam, who works at the Dak Lak Elephant Conservation Center (ECC) in the central highland province of Dak Lak. The ECC aims to protect both wild and domestic elephants in the Dak Lak province, where elephant population numbers are critically low.

The central highlands region is Vietnam's primary elephant habitat. The Dak Lak Elephant Conservation Centre reported that the central highlands region had around 502 captive and more than 550 wild elephants in 1980, but all that are remain now are 49 captive elephants and five herds of wild elephants numbering 60-70 individuals. Shrinking forests, illegal poaching, shortage of food, improper breeding techniques, and overworking have been the cause of deaths of both captive and wild elephants. Experts estimate that the captive elephant population will disappear in 20-30 years if they do not reproduce. According to the Dak Lak ECC, the reproduction rate of captive elephants over the past 30 years has been only 0.6 % per year, and the rate has dropped even further now because of limited opportunity to breed. To boost the captive population there is now an emphasis on reproduction, which was a primary focus in the training course attended by Dr Van Tinh Pham.

Sounthone Phitsamone (Kan)

Chris Reifschneider

Kan modeling our bumper sticker

Kan modeling our bumper sticker

AES provided funding for a man named Sounthone Phitsamone (Kan), from the Elephant Conservation Center in Laos, PDR to attend the 2013 FOKMAS mahout workshop. AES has supported the Center on various projects over the last couple of years. We felt it would be helpful for Kan to attend this workshop to gain valuable knowledge from the mahouts in Indonesia. In turn, he would share this information with the mahouts in Laos. Watch for the January newsletter where we will highlight Kan’s trip to Indonesia.

Kan works at the ECC elephant hospital as an assistant to the veterinarians.  Most of the veterinarians speak English and not Laotian (native language of Laos), so Kan also serves as a translator for the veterinarians, mahouts, and owners.  Kan impressed Linda with his enthusiasm and passion for the elephants at the ECC and his English language skills. When Linda returned to the U.S., we began discussing ways to provide additional support to elephants in Laos, and the idea of helping Kan improve his scientific, husbandry, and welfare knowledge by attending the mahout workshop was an obvious choice.

Field Measurements

Field Measurements

Because elephant healthcare and welfare knowledge in Laos is very limited, the knowledge and networking connections Kan gained at the mahout workshop will significantly benefit the 10  resident ECC elephants and approximately 300 other elephants that are treated by mobile clinics annually. Among the important elephant care issues discussed and demonstrated at the mahout workshop, Kan learned how critical it is for an elephant to be comfortable with being touched by the mahouts and veterinarians.  When medical treatment is needed, an elephant that is used to being touched by people will be calmer and more accepting of the medical care.  Kan was impressed with how calm, Theo, the male elephant from the Tangkahan ECC was while he had his feet worked on during the footwork demonstration, even though there was a crowd of people around him.  Kan learned how to properly take field measurements to estimate weights which will be very useful in determining correct medicine dosages for treating elephants in remote elephant camps where it is not feasible to use the portable scale donated by AES.

Kan also learned a wealth of useful information for caring for calves. There are currently two calves where Kan works at the ECC in Laos, one of which is an orphan.  Kan spoke at length with the mahouts during the breaks and meals to learn about the mahouts’ experiences with orphans and discussed his own experiences. They talked about elephant behavior, nutrition, feeding schedules, etc.  These discussions will most certainly improve care for orphan elephant calves in both Indonesia and Laos.

Even after the workshop was done for the day, Kan was still actively engaged.  Every evening he had a list of additional questions for Dr. Stremme about reproduction, nutrition, training, and more. Kan learned an incredible amount of practical information from Dr. Stremme.  Kan repeatedly said he couldn’t wait to get back to the ECC in Laos to share this information with veterinarians and mahouts to improve the health and welfare of the elephants in Laos.

It was a pleasure to support Kan.  We will continue to communicate with Kan and other participants of the mahout workshop to gain new insights into how AES can more effectively improve Asian elephant health, welfare and humane treatment by facilitating educational opportunities for the people who directly care for elephants in range countries.

Professor Raman Sukumar - The Asian Elephant’s Conservation Conundrum

Vanessa Gagne

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Presented by the Saint Louis Zoo in Partnership with the Academy of Science-St. Louis

We are very encouraged by the progress of these baby elephants and we are hopeful for their future.  Unfortunately, due to an increase in human-elephant conflict, there will be more babies that need our help.  The ability to act quickly in these situations is critical, so please consider making a donation to AES or signing up for our monthly giving program, so we can move quickly to help protect the future of Sumatra’s elephant population.

Dr. Raman Sukumar is a Professor of Ecology and Chair of the Centre for Ecological Sciences at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, India. Dr. Sukumar is an internationally acclaimed Asian elephant researcher and conservationist, founder of the Asian Nature Conservation Foundation (ANCF)  ( ), and a recipient of the International Cosmos Prize.

Dr. Sukumar has authored multiple books on the ecology and history of the Asian elephant, including:

  • The Story of Asia’s Elephants (2011) presents the ecological and cultural history of the Asian elephant, from ancient to contemporary times. The story of elephant and man is traced along successive periods in Asian history, and under major religious establishments. The final chapter presents a summary of the latest scientific knowledge of the elephant’s ecology and behaviour, and how we can plan for the conservation of the species.
  • The Living Elephants (2003) is an authoritative resource on both Asian and African elephants.  In this framework of evolutionary biology, Sukumar presents the behaviour, ecology, conservation,  and human interactions with elephants. This book should be of interest not only to biologists, but also to  field ecologists, wildlife administrators, historians, conservationists and all those interested in elephants and their future.
  • Elephant Days and Nights (1994) is an account of Dr. Sukumar’s  experiences during ten years of research on the Indian elephant.
  • The Asian Elephant (1993) provides an ecological analysis of elephant human interaction and its implications for the conservation of elephants.

Read more about these books at  .

Dr. Sukumar has collaborated with scientists from all over the world and has published many peer-reviewed research papers on a wide array of topics. You can download and read some of these publications on the ANCF website at:

A sampling of his research contributions include:

  • Populations, movement and habitat utilization of free-ranging elephants
  • Population, reproduction and management of captive Asian elephants
  • Demography of captive elephants in India
  • Crop-raiding patterns
  • Methods for census of wild elephants
  • Parasite abundance and diversity in elephants
  • Diagnosis of TB in captive elephants in India
  • Vocalizations of wild Asian elephants and social context
  • Pheromone in wild Asian elephants

Everyone was very excited to have this world-renowned elephant conservationist share his expertise during his visit to the United States in 2013. When our international advisor, Heidi Riddle, approached AES president, Linda Reifschneider, regarding the possibility of Prof. Sukumar participating in the St. Louis’ Zoo lecture series, everyone quickly agreed.    

July 26th through the 29th was a fun and educational weekend.  Linda had an opportunity to talk with Prof. Sukumar about future collaborative opportunities with AES and there was even time to do a little site seeing to the St. Louis Gateway Arch, the Endangered Wolf Center, and Grant’s Farm. In the evenings, Prof. Sukumar and the elephant staffs from the St. Louis Zoo and Grant’s Farm had an opportunity to discuss elephant issues over dinner.

Dr. Sukumar with Bud at Grant's Farm

Dr. Sukumar with Bud at Grant's Farm

More than 125 individuals attended Prof. Sukumar’s presentation, “The Asian Elephant's Conservation Conundrums” on Sunday, July 28th.  He enlightened everyone on the history of the Asian elephant and the elephant’s long relationship with man from ancient times through today. Most importantly, he expressed his concerns, hopes, and suggestions for the future of Asian elephants. His closing comments on the need for the East and West to work together and to share training and conservation knowledge, resonates with the AES board of directors.  Now more than ever, collaboration is critical for the survival of Asian elephants.  

Dr. Sukumar during his presentation

Dr. Sukumar during his presentation

Thank you to the St. Louis Zoo and the Academy of Science-St. Louis for presenting this exceptional opportunity to the St. Louis community.





An Indian Teacher Making Great Strides for Elephant Conservation

Vanessa Gagne

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 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!






Supporting Higher Education

Vanessa Gagne

In our February 2012 newsletter, we introduced Aswin Bangun, an Indonesian Forestry Department employee.  As part of AES’s goal to provide financial assistance for the education of deserving individuals working for elephant conservation in Asian range countries, we provided a scholarship grant for Aswin to complete his Master’s degree in Forest Conservation.  

We are pleased to announce that in early June, Aswin completed his degree.  The title of his thesis is the 'Relationship between level of encroachment and human elephant conflict in the Seblat forest.'

This degree will assist him in his future work to improve elephant conservation in Bengkulu province and throughout Sumatra. Congratulations to Aswin and we looking forward to working with him in the future.


Conservation Education with Think Elephants International

Chris Reifschneider

Think Elephants International (TEI) is a non-profit organization that aims to conserve Asian elephants through scientific research and education programs. TEI's founder, Joshua Plotnik, PhD, has been studying elephant cognition for the past few years. Two of his most notable studies scientifically prove that elephants can self-recognize, and are capable of complex cooperation.

Last year, TEI started an after school club for middle school students in New York City that taught students the scientific research process, as well as the importance of environmental conservation. Through the use of Skype, these students saw what life was like for elephants and their mahouts (caretakers) in Thailand. This club also had several guest speakers, and took a field trip to the National Zoo to get an up close and personal experience with the elephants.

Because this was such a success, TEI is looking to expand their program globally. They will especially focus on implementing the program in Thai schools, as young Thais have great potential for conserving their elephants and their environment. These students will get a full understanding of the complex situation that many Asian countries are facing by focusing on topics ranging from culture and language, to perceptions of animal welfare and conservation interests. Through this experience and education, these students will be better prepared to deal with the issues surrounding Thailand and its environment when it is their turn to make the decisions.

AES awarded TEI $2,000 for the purchase of an Apple computer and a television that will be used in Thai schools to help educate students about the importance of elephant conservation. Part of AES's mission statement is to increase awareness of the needs and future of the Asian elephant, as well as to provide educational opportunities to those persons who care for captive Asian elephants in range countries. We are very excited by the potential TEI has to positively shape the future of captive and wild elephants and the people with whom they share land.

For more information regarding TEI, please visit their website at:

Financial Support for Aswin Bangun's Master's Degree in Forest Conservation (Indonesia)

Chris Reifschneider

In our February 2012 newsletter, we introduced Aswin Bangun, an Indonesian Forestry Department employee. In 1999, Aswin graduated from the Agricultural Institute in Bogor (Java) with a degree in forestry. He began his career with the Forestry Police in the Department of Forestry in 2000, and was assigned to the Nature Conservation Agency (BKSDA) in Bengkulu province. During his nine years with the Forestry Department, he was assigned to the Rhino Protection Unit in Kerinci Seblat National Park, and was Manager of the Conservation Response Unit (CRU) in Seblat. During his tenure in Seblat, Aswin was responsible for the oversight of the CRU elephant back patrols, which use trained elephants, their mahouts (handlers) and forest rangers to monitor protected areas. In 2008, Aswin was transferred to the central Forest Department office in Jakarta to address forestry issues on the national level. While working in Seblat, Aswin became very interested in elephant conservation and decided to study human-elephant conflict (HEC) issues in order to better understand how to address the problem.



As part of AES’s goal to provide financial assistance for the education of deserving individuals working for elephant conservation in Asian range countries, we provided a scholarship grant in 2011 for Aswin to complete his Master’s degree in Forest Conservation.

We are pleased to announce that in early June of 2012, Aswin completed his degree. The title of his thesis is the "Relationship between level of encroachment and human elephant conflict in the Seblat forest." This degree will assist him in his future work to improve elephant conservation in Bengkulu province and throughout Sumatra. We thank Aswin for his dedication to all of Sumatra's wildlife and we look forward to working with him in the future.