AZA Elephant TAG/SSP Elephant Information

 Elephant Conservation

Elephants are under enormous pressure in the wild, which threatens their survival.

Elephants are protected in the wild under CITES (Conservation on International Trade in Endangered Species). According to USFWS (United States Fish and Wildlife Service), their conservation status is identified as endangered in Asia, and endangered and threatened in Africa. Elephant populations are declining in some areas, while locally overpopulated in others. The greatest threats to elephants in the wild are habitat loss, the continued illegal trade in ivory and the encroachment of human populations into wildlife areas. One strategy to reconnect elephants' natural migratory routes links protected areas together by creating habitat corridors, allowing elephant populations to mix and potentially decrease human/elephant conflict.

Elephant conservation is extremely complex and must take into account both human and animal needs. Negative elephant/human interactions include crop loss, human fatalities, and damage to houses and other structures. Positive interactions include ecotourism, especially when the local community benefits from the tourist revenues. Seeing elephants in their natural environment may create inspirational experiences that foster positive attitudes towards elephants. Creative solutions to human/elephant conflicts must involve the local people and benefit them, as well as elephants.

Conservation Projects Supported by the Elephant TAG

AZA requires support for field conservation work by its member facilities. The AZA and the International Elephant Foundation (IEF) have entered into a Memorandum of Understanding in support of elephant conservation projects of mutual interest that are identified by IEF and are consistent with the conservation goals of AZA.

Listed below are the IEF/AZA Elephant TAG/SSP action plan conservation projects for 2011:

Asian Elephant Projects

1. Sumatra Elephant Conservation Response Units (CRU), Indonesia

If the elephants living on the Indonesian island of Sumatra are to be saved for the future, conservation programs that promote elephants and people co-existing peacefully are necessary. As a long-time supporter of elephant conservation in Sumatra, IEF has invested $500,000 since 2000 to support Conservation Response Units (CRU), providing once neglected captive elephants with high quality care and an active lifestyle, and providing the mahouts (elephant caretakers) with training and salary. The CRU elephant/mahout teams are employed to carry out forest patrols and wildlife monitoring, as well as provide educational workshops about elephants in neighboring communities.
Creating this positive link between people and elephants, and ensuring that these elephants are seen as an important national resource and doing positive deeds, is helping local communities and decision-makers recognize the value of protecting the elephants of Sumatra.

2. ElefantAsia’s Breeding Sanctuary and Hospital Program, Laos
With domesticated elephant numbers plummeting due to low reproduction rates, it is vital that cows are given the optimum opportunity to breed. ElefantAsia will be opening the first breeding sanctuary, elephant hospital and laboratory on the grounds of the Lao Elephant Sanctuary. This project will provide elephant owners incentives to breed their elephants raising the birth rate of endangered Asian elephants in Laos, while offering local and international visitors a new educational tourism experience via observation towers where they can view cows interacting with their calves. ElefantAsia’s elephant hospital and laboratory will provide Laos with a much-needed center for elephant disease diagnosis, pathology and veterinary care.

3. Evaluation of Elephant Herpesvirus Shedding Among In Situ Asian Elephants
Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesvirus (EEHV) has been associated with rapidly
progressing, fatal hemorrhagic disease in Asian elephants in human care and in the wild. Using a rapid and sensitive test based on real-time PCR, it has been determined that captive Asian elephants from several herds frequently shed EEHV1 in trunk secretions, and these secretions are a likely mode of viral transmission between animals. However, important questions remain regarding the frequency of persistent EEHV1 infection within wild Asian elephant populations and when EEHV1 infection entered Asian elephant populations. The objectives of this project are to determine whether wild Asian elephants show evidence of persistent EEHV1 infection and to perform detailed DNA sequence analysis to characterize the evolutionary history of the viruses being shed by wild elephants. Data generated from this project will be invaluable in our understanding of the prevalence and history of EEHV1 infection in Asian elephants.

4. Promoting Human-Elephant Coexistence in Karnataka, Southern India through Survey, Education and Awareness Programs
In 2009, a series of training and awareness programs in human-elephant conflict areas of Karnataka were held in order to promote human-elephant coexistence. A successful education module was developed by Zoo Outreach Organization for both literate and illiterate audiences of age groups from school going children to adults. This project will assess the impact of the training and awareness program that took place in 2009 and to evaluate any attitude and behavioral changes towards problem elephants. This project will also use the Zoo Outreach Organization’s education module in the districts of Hassan and Coorg which are additional target areas to promote human-elephant coexistence.

5. Publication of the Gajah, the Journal of the Asian Elephant Specialist Group
Gajah is the Journal of the IUCN/Asian Elephant Specialist Group. With long-term support from IEF, Gajah shares best practices and builds capacity amongst
conservationists and researchers and to those interested in the care and conservation of the Asian elephant, both wild and those in human care.

African Elephant Projects

1. Joint Conservancy Anti-Poaching Team with the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT), Kenya
Since the Northern Rangeland Trust’s (NRT) inception in 2004, poaching and other security-related incidents in northern Kenya have decreased largely because of the development of NRT and its 17 community conservancies. However, poaching still remains a threat in this region, due to the large number of illegal firearms in the hands of local people, and relative proximity to unstable countries on the northern and eastern borders of Kenya. IEF and NRT, with support from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, have partnered to develop a Joint Conservancy Anti-Poaching Team that is greatly enhancing the wildlife protection and monitoring in the region. This team, first and foremost, is protecting elephants by deterring incidents of poaching from occurring and, when unfortunate incidents of
poaching do arise within NRT communities, by providing a dedicated team of skilled anti-poaching officers immediately available to respond to and resolve these issues. In 2011, IEF signed a partnership agreement with NRT, thus making a strong commitment to support this critical project for the next 3 years.

2. Disseminating Lessons Learned and Building Capacity through Pachyderm
Pachyderm, the journal of the African Elephant, African Rhino and Asian Rhino
Specialist Groups of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission, provides a vital venue for the publication of research into the status and conservation of the African elephant. The Chair Report, in addition to reports from the CITES Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants and Elephant Trade Information System monitoring programs, provides an international overview into current policy issues and conservation discussions surrounding elephants. Pachyderm is an essential vehicle for publishing manuscripts by range state researchers, thereby assisting in developing capacity at the scientific and managerial level within the African elephant range.

3. Elephants, Crops and People and the Waterways Project, Uganda Conservation Foundation (UCF)
This multi-year partnership between IEF and Uganda Conservation Foundation (UCF) has resulted in the development of a system of fencing and trenches that keep elephants out of fields and villages while protecting human lives and allowing children to attend school without a fear of elephants. This project has also constructed and equipped multiple boat patrol stations on the shores of Lake George in Queen Elizabeth National Park. These boat patrols are already having a significant impact on the ability to protect wildlife and prevent elephant and hippopotamus poaching, and illegal fishing.

4. Park Protection and Training Program in Kafue National Park, Zambia
Game Rangers International (GRI) is committed to working in close cooperation with the Zambian Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) and the local Community Resources Boards to protect the territories of more than 950 wild elephants. However, recent evidence has shown that elephant populations in south Kafue are being attacked by poachers posing as fishermen and using Lake Itezhi-Tezhi to access the Park. Currently, ZAWA does not have the means to respond to this threat. Therefore, GRI is determined to expand the Park Protection & Training Program to include Water Patrols, Surveillance and Monitoring of Lake Itezhi-Tezhi, providing increased security the wildlife. To achieve this mission, GRI will use boats to patrol the lake and will provide specific training to ZAWA officers and Village Scouts.

5. Program "My Elephant Neighbor"

Exposing African children to their elephant neighbors in a positive manner is an
effective way to involve them and their families in elephant conservation. Since the inception of the “My Elephant Neighbor” program, over 2,500 children and 300 teachers have participated in this outreach program with ongoing support from IEF. The program offers a unique opportunity to see the local elephants and learn about them in the field. This program benefits elephant conservation as both children and their parents are sensitized to the issues of neighboring elephant populations.

6. Save The Elephants

IEF funding has supported the core operation of Iain Douglas-Hamilton’s Save The Elephants (STE) conservation organization that operates projects throughout since 2007. STE does basic research on elephant behavior and ecology and has pioneered GPS radio tracking with elephants, assists wildlife departments in their fight against ivory traders and poachers using aerial surveillance and radio-tracking, involves local people in research and education to develop a conservation ethic based on local knowledge and elephant needs, and disseminates information through films and publications.

7. Supporting Village Scout Anti-poaching Work in South Luangwa, Zambia
This project provides training to scouts and the community to protect and conserve elephants in their region. Monitoring data suggests that elephant poaching activities in the South Luangwa National Park and surrounding game management areas continue to increase, despite improvements in law enforcement. The direct and immediate benefits of this anti-poaching work will be a decrease in elephant mortalities from poaching, a reduction in the number of elephants controlled for crop raiding and also a reduction in the number of elephant fatalities from snare and gunshot wounds.

8. Sustaining Protection for Nigeria’s Largest Elephant Population in Yankari Game Reserve, Nigeria.
Yankari contains the largest surviving population of elephants in Nigeria, which is also one of the largest in West Africa. Estimated at about 350 individuals, this is perhaps the only viable elephant population remaining in the country. From January to July 2010 with IEF support, there were 1,606 patrol hours covering a distance of more than 8,800km with 69 arrests made. IEF will be continuing its support of this project for another year. The project’s goal in 2011 is to improve the long-term conservation of elephants in Yankari Game Reserve by 1) providing support for regular, effective antipoaching patrols, and 2) further strengthening the existing ranger-based CyberTracker monitoring system.

Research & Education Efforts

1. Determining Pharmacokinetic Characteristics of the Antiviral Drug Ganciclovir
in Asian Elephants

Elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV) is a significant cause of mortality in young Asian elephants, contributing to at least 65% of juvenile deaths in the captive population. Two EEHV-infected calves have been treated with ganciclovir, an antiviral drug which has been successfully used in human medicine, and both calves survived. Appropriate dosages and dosing intervals to maintain therapeutic blood levels of ganciclovir in elephants needs to be established in order to guarantee effective treatment and to minimize drug-associated side effects. This pharmacokinetic study will measure levels of ganciclovir in the plasma of Asian elephants following intravenous
administration. Confirmation that therapeutic blood levels of ganciclovir are achieved after treatment and establishment of an appropriate treatment regimen will provide a scientifically based protocol for others to follow when treating EEHV-infected elephant calves with this promising antiviral drug.

2. Elephant Endothelial Cells: A System to Isolate Elephant Endotheliotropic

Elephant endotheliotropic herpesviruses (EEHVs) are a leading cause of
neonatal/juvenile deaths in Asian elephants. To date, scientists have identified several herpesviruses but have not yet isolated them from infected tissues of sick animals. It is believed that the virus present in secretions, blood, or tissues of infected animals can be isolated in the lab in an elephant endothelial-cell culture. Once the virus is isolated, significant understanding of the biology of the virus and the pathophysiology of the disease will be possible. This would constitute a major advance for improving the health and management of African and Asian Elephants, and greatly contribute to their conservation worldwide.

3. Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesvirus (EEHV) Research
IEF has been a primary funder of the National Herpesvirus laboratory at the
Smithsonian National Zoo since 2008 and funds multiple studies aimed at identifying the causes of EEHV in an effort to prevent future EEHV fatalities. Studies include identifying the status of EEHV in individual elephants and their potential for further transmission, and identify predisposing factors that make specific elephants more susceptible to the disease and identifying effective treatments. EEHV is a serious concern for both wild and managed elephant populations.

4. GnRH Vaccination as a Potential Way to Control Fertility and Androgen Driven
Behavior in African and Asian Elephant Bulls

Social behavior of free-ranging adult elephant bulls differs from that of females. A solitary life, increased aggression and periods of musth characterize the mature bulls’ behavior. In their range countries, free ranging musth bulls damage settlements and crops. Animal welfare issues, as well as conflicts between wild bulls and humans underline the urgent need of solutions. Recently, trials of reversible chemical castration of elephant bulls with the help of a GnRH (Gonadotropin-releasing Hormone) vaccine have been undertaken and appear promising as a new simple and cost-effective contraception method. However, further studies are necessary to show the effectiveness and safety of this vaccine. This study will involve four vaccinations within one year and regular monitoring of the antibody titer, of physiological and behavioral
changes, of the reproductive tract (through ultrasound), of the semen quality and hormonal changes.

5. IEF Elephant Research Symposium
Every year IEF facilitates an International Elephant Conservation and Research
Symposium. In 2011, this gathering of elephant conservationists and researchers from around the world will be convened in Rotterdam, The Netherlands in October. This symposium offers elephant experts the unique opportunity to learn from others and share information in order to further conservation efforts of elephants in the wild.

As a non-profit organization dedicated to elephant welfare, IEF solicits donations to fund worthy conservation and research projects worldwide. To learn more about IEF or to contribute to elephant conservation efforts, visit IEF's website at
With minimal administrative costs, IEF is able to dedicate more than 90 percent of its budget directly toward elephant conservation programs worldwide.

For more details on IEF/AZA projects, please contact:

Deborah Olson
Executive Director
International Elephant Foundation

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Updated: November 22, 2011