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.
Friday night in hotel room after meeting:
Elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV) is responsible for 42% of the deaths of Asian elephants born in North America since 1980. It is certainly a leading cause of mortality in the young Asian elephants in our country, and better understanding of this devastating disease is a high priority for the research collaboration established between the Houston Zoo and Baylor College of Medicine. What does EEHV mean for Asian elephants in their 13 range countries across South Asia? Does it impact elephants that are under human care in camps, orphanages, zoos, and logging operations? Does it impact free ranging Asian elephant populations, which are already under immense pressure from habitat destruction and fragmentation, human elephant conflict, and poaching?
Today we took the first steps to finding answers to some of these questions. Today was the second day of our three day 1st Asian EEHV Strategy Meeting, hosted by Wildlife Reserves Singapore. Thirty three veterinarians, conservationists, researchers and elephant specialists from eight elephant range countries as well as Singapore, the Netherlands, Canada and the US came together to share information and discuss priorities and plan our next steps in regard to EEHV in Asia. The largest regional need identified was the need to increase awareness and education about EEHV in all groups including those taking care of the elephants every day (the mahouts) as well as elephant and wildlife veterinarians, veterinary colleges, and government officials. Another important issue identified was the need to establish more laboratories that can diagnose EEHV within range countries; currently, of 13 elephant range countries, only 3 have EEHV diagnostic capabilities (India, Thailand, and Indonesia). EEHV can cause death within 1 to 2 days of the start of visible illness, making close availability of diagnostic laboratories of paramount importance.
A third priority identified was the need to learn more about the impact of EEHV on Asian elephant populations in range countries. Together, we identified 62 cases of EEHV in five of the range countries represented at our meeting (India, Myanmar, Indonesia, Thailand, and Cambodia), with 3 of these 62 elephants surviving infection with intensive treatment by Thai veterinarians. Of the 59 identified EEHV fatalities, 47 were in captive elephants and 12 were documented in wild elephants in India, where wildlife veterinarians already have an extensive monitoring and necropsy protocol. We now know for certain that EEHV-associated mortalities occur in wild elephants, and need to learn much more about its prevalence in and impact on wild populations.
It was a long day and long laundry list of needs and problems to address…. Wherever do we start…. Stay tuned next time for the answers! (well, at least some of them…..)