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.
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.
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!