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.
With almost 6 million people, Singapore is one of the world’s smallest countries. That said, it has four official languages, six digit zip codes, and has transformed itself from a “third-world, mosquito infested swamp” to modern, vibrant city in less than 50 years. The architecture and ambiance struck me as a cross between New York City and Las Vegas, with an added emphasis on green spaces and ecologically responsible design. Minus the litter, panhandlers, and chewing gum encrusted on the sidewalks, of course. (Chewing gum, and littering, are punishable offenses here). Today was our one day off from the workshops to see a bit of the city, and I got a chance to look around with Dr. Paul Ling, of the Baylor College of Medicine. If you want to see an absolutely crazy building, check out the Marina Bay Sands Hotel of Singapore, which looks like three hotels with a boat on top of them.
Dr. Ling and I have traveled to Singapore to participate in the 1st Asian EEHV Strategy Meeting, a three-day workshop hosted by Wildlife Reserves Singapore and including 38 people from 8 Asian elephant range countries as well as Singapore, Europe, Canada and the US. Together we are sharing information on EEHV (elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus), a deadly virus that can cause acute, often fatal hemorrhagic disease in young Asian elephants, both under human care and in the wild. The Houston Zoo and Baylor College of Medicine have worked together on extensive research on this virus, and it was our privilege to take what we’ve learned in North America and use the information to help veterinarians detect and treat EEHV in Asian elephants throughout their 13 native range countries.
As we wrapped up our EEHV Meeting, the work of some of our new friends was just beginning as they started a two day meeting on the 2nd ASEAN Captive Elephant Working Group Meeting. I was able to sit in on one day of their discussion, where they focused on captive elephant care in elephant camps throughout Asia. There are many elephant camps that welcome tourists in Thailand and other Asian countries, and the quality of elephant care in these camps can vary greatly. It is the daunting task of this group to establish some guidelines, and possibly even a scoring or accreditation system similar to the AZA, for these camps. This would allow for more regular veterinary care of the elephants, improved living conditions for elephants and their caretakers, and will give well-meaning tourists the information they need to support the camps that do best by their animals.
Whether you are traveling 20 hours by plane to Asia or just as far as Hermann Park in Houston, there is a lot you can do to help save animals in the wild, and to contribute to Asian elephant health and conservation. Every time you visit the Houston Zoo, your money helps to save animals in the wild. If you’d like to learn more about elephants and EEHV, the virus that has claimed the lives of almost half the Asian elephants that have been born in North America since 1980, please visit our www.eehvinfo.org. The critical, lifesaving research we do to better understand and manage EEHV would not be possible without financial support from people like you, who love elephants just as much as we do.
It was a great opportunity for me to travel on behalf of the Houston Zoo and share all of our hard won information on EEHV with my new friends and colleagues from Singapore, Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, India, Cambodia, Borneo, and Vietnam. It’s not often you get to participate in a meeting where you really feel like your presence made a big difference, and I am grateful for the chance to experience that! Many people might assume that anyone who works at a zoo travels to far away, exotic places all the time, and some of us do. It’s just usually not me. With two small children I adore and a husband I never see enough of, the most exotic travel I usually do for conservation is to get out to Bastrop State Park once a year to participate in egg releases for our critically endangered Houston toad program. Becoming involved in EEHV collaboration and research has given me the opportunity to see some pretty incredible places and meet some amazing people, and also to stretch my wings and try my hand at new skills such as facilitation, consensus building, and even blogging! It just goes to show that you never know where a career in veterinary medicine may take you, or what you may end up dedicating your life to. I consider myself very lucky to be able to call the Houston Zoo, with its focus on conservation and science, home!