Houston Zoo’s Dr Lauren Travels to Singapore to Save Elephants – Post # 5

One of our expert veterinarians is currently in Singapore working with other wildlife professionals to save elephants from a deadly virus. Embark on this journey with her as she writes about the efforts being made to eradicate the virus and protect Asian elephants around the world.

They put me to work right away helping to facilitate discussionsWildlife Reserves Singapore consists of four separate animal parks: the Singapore Zoo, Singapore Night Safari, Singapore River Safari, and the Jurong Bird Park. The Singapore Zoo has an enormous Orangutan exhibit that houses 27 individuals in an amazing tree top exhibit.  The Night Safari is open only in the evening and focuses on nocturnal animals (and has a delicious dinner buffet to boot!). The Jurong Bird Park contains a massive enclosed aviary with a breathtaking waterfall that falls over a natural cliff around which the park was built. Wildlife Reserves Singapore is hosting our 1st Asian EEHV Strategy Meeting and funded the travel for many wildlife veterinarians and researchers from Asian elephant range countries so that they can attend this important first step in understanding EEHV’s impact in this region. My travel was funded by the Houston Zoo, as part of our ongoing effort to understand EEHV and also to share information and encourage international collaboration.

We learned yesterday that elephant deaths from EEHV (elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus) have been identified in five Asian elephant range countries (India, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Myanmar). Our task now is to clarify our next steps in both sharing what we know about EEHV with those that need to know it, and also in learning what we can about the impact of EEHV in this part of the world.The Jurong Bird Park has an amazing collection of birds and aviary surrounding this enormous waterfall, which falls over a natural cliff on which the park is built

Many veterinarians I met are just like my colleagues and I at the Houston Zoo, providing medical care for baby elephants under human care and wanting to do whatever they can to increase their chances of survival.  Some of these veterinarians live onsite with the elephants and have access to diagnostic laboratories and a wide range of veterinary drugs, and some of these vets take a whole day’s travel to even get to the baby elephants, and then make it only if the bridges aren’t out. Some of these elephants are in complex, highly regulated logging camps where their hours worked and medical care are carefully monitored, and some elephants are privately owned and live and work in small camps or with mahout families. Many vets also provide veterinary care and post mortem examinations on wild elephants, and help to care for wild elephants that come into conflict with humans on the border of human/elephant habitats.

The Singapore Zoo has two large male Asian elephants, a father and son, who live together in one exhibit.
There is much to learn about EEHV in wild elephants, and this is the hardest population of elephants to monitor and to determine numbers of and causes of death for. Mapping out the impact of a disease like EEHV on free ranging elephant populations across South Asia requires a well-organized effort and a long term commitment to sample collection and population monitoring. And we are just beginning.

Veterinarians from Thailand and India cast their votes for the most pressing issues regarding EEHV in Asia
Veterinarians from Thailand and India cast their votes for the most pressing issues regarding EEHV in Asia

Today our group identified several documents that we can put together to guide local veterinarians, mahouts and government officials, which we will complete by the end of 2015 and be ready to share by Feb 2016. These documents will be compiled into an EEHV in Asia Strategy Booklet, and will be the basis for the next steps we’ll take in tackling EEHV in this region. Our first step is to get everyone up to speed on what EEHV is, and how to recognize it, and, for those that are able, how to treat it. While we are doing that, we’ll also be encouraging veterinarians to document cases, collect data and start banking samples on captive and wild elephants whenever possible. Next we need to identify resources with which we can help to set up diagnostic laboratories in the countries that really need them, such as Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, Malaysia, and others. We’ll be meeting again in Nov 2016 to gauge our progress and make the next set of plans.

Stay tuned for one more blog about Singapore and about what you can do to help elephants!!

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