Susan K. Mikota, DVM
As human population growth continues to soar past 6 billion people, habitat for megavertebrates (and
innumerable other animal and plant species) continues to diminish. Those populations that survive do so because they reside
in protected, managed areas. With perhaps a few exceptions, there is no "wild." It is becoming increasingly obvious that
concerned parties working to manage "free-ranging" populations and those involved in managing captive populations will need
to work more closely together to make the best use of limited human and monetary conservation resources. It seems likely
that the captive and free-ranging population segments of many species will need to be managed on a global basis if they are
to survive at all.
Our collective knowledge of the husbandry, management, and health care of captive wildlife has vastly
increased over the past several decades. If the current trends in human population growth and habitat encroachment continue
there will be an increasing need for zoo professionals to share their knowledge and to provide support to in-country
conservation efforts. Such projects may involve the provision of veterinary services for free-ranging wild populations
(e.g., the Mountain Gorilla Project), equipment and monetary support of protected areas (e.g., Madagascar Fauna Interest
Group support of Betampona Nature Reserve) training programs and supply donations for zoos (e.g., Zoo Conservation Outreach
Group) or other projects conducted in cooperation with U.S. or in-country based organizations.
Captive Elephants in Sumatra
Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, and Irian Jaya have absorbed over 2.5 million people as part of a
repatriation plan by the Indonesian government to relieve overcrowding on Java, Bali, and Madura. There are plans to
relocate an additional 65 million people over the next 20 yr. As elephant habitat on Sumatra has decreased, conflicts
between elephants and humans have escalated.
In 1986, Indonesia brought kwans (mahouts) from Thailand to train Indonesians for capture operations.
Between 1986 and 1995, 520 wild elephants were captured by xylazine immobilization administered from the back of Thai
khoonkies (elephants trained for capture).
The current captive population of about 400 captive elephants is maintained in six Elephant Training
Centers (ETCs) located throughout Sumatra. Here, elephants are "domesticated" and ostensibly trained for use in forestry,
agriculture, or tourism. Some centers offer rides and shows to the visiting public. Although some elephants have been
trained for use in the logging industry, the demand for elephants to work in this capacity has fallen short of expectations.
Five of the six camps are run by the Directorate General of the Forest Protection and Nature
Conservation (PHPA); the Way Kambas ETC is managed by the National Park authority. Food and veterinary supplies are funded
by the PHPA on a per capita basis. The food budget averages $1.00/day/elephant; the veterinary supply budget ranges from
$1.50 to $2.50/elephant/month. Most veterinary supplies are imported. Financial support for the ETCs was inadequate even
prior to the recent economic crisis in Indonesia. A number of reports have been generated from visits to the Sumatran ETCs.
In 1992, Dr. Krishnamurthy, a respected elephant veterinarian from India, outlined recommendations to improve husbandry and
health care at Way Kambas.1 Between 1997 and 1998, Joanne Reilly and Pak Sukatmoko collected data on the
management of the captive population at Way Kambas National Park.2 In May 1998, two veterinarians sponsored by
Fauna and Flora International (FFI) visited three of the ETC's as part of FFI's Sumatran Elephant Conservation
Program.3,4 Also in 1998, Ron Lilley and Chairul Saleh of WWF Indonesia surveyed five of the centers following
international press reports of elephants' suffering as a result of the Indonesian economic crisis.5
These reports are in agreement regarding the general problems that confront the ETCs:
There is often insufficient food
Funds are lacking for veterinary
Wages for mahouts are low,
Improvement in basic training
methods is needed, and
The centers are at or over
Specific health care issues include:
facilities, lack of supplies and equipment;
Sporadic veterinary service,
untrained veterinarians, frequent turnover;
Lack of veterinary literature on
elephant care; and
Poor record keeping.
The clinical problems observed at all the centers include:
Intestinal parasitism, and
Infection from superficial
In March 2000 the Elephant SSP initiated a program to solicit donated veterinary supplies for the
ETCs. Most needed are oral and injectable anthelmintics, large animal oral and injectable antibiotics such as amoxicillin,
trimethoprim-sulfa, long-acting penicillins, cephalosporins (Naxcel), and oxytetracycline), vitamins, flunixin, xylazine,
ketamine, yohimbine, and topical wound treatment agents. Also needed are syringes, needles, scalpels, simple instruments
suitable for wound treatment, suture, stomach tubes, and necropsy instruments. Equipment needs include microscopes, foot
trimming tools, small refrigerators, radios, water pumps, and generators. Mahouts need boots, sun hats and long sleeve
shirts. Monetary donations are also being accepted and can be made to the Oregon Zoo Foundation (indicate the donation is
for the Sumatran Elephant Fund). For further information and shipping instructions contact Susan Mikota DVM, 504-398-3111;
firstname.lastname@example.org. The intent of this SSP project is to provide immediate medical assistance for elephants housed at ETC's
in Sumatra. Certainly their long-term welfare will require a larger cooperative effort aimed at practical and sustainable
solutions which address the issues of habitat for free-ranging elephants and the problems associated with human-elephant
conflict. It is likely that projects recently proposed by the World Wildlife Fund, IEF, FFI, and others will contribute to
this long-term effort.
1. Krishnamurthy V. 1992. Recommendation for improving the management of captive elephants in
Way Kambas National Park, Lampung, Sumatra, Indonesia. Gajah 9: 4-13.
2. Lewis J. 1998. A veterinary assessment of Sumatran elephant training centers; a
report on the visit of Dr. John Lewis of International Zoo Veterinary Group, on behalf of Fauna & Flora International,
to the Sumatran elephant training centers at Lhokseumawe, Sebanga, and Way Kambas, Sumatra 29.04.98-13.05.98.
3. Lilley R, C Saleh. 1998. Captive elephants in crisis; a WWF report on a survey of
elephant training centers in Sumatra, Indonesia, 9-20 November, 1998. Submitted to WWF Asian Elephant Action Planning
Workshop, Vietnam: 1-6 December, 1998.
4. Reilly J, P Sukatmoko. 1998. The elephant training centre at Way Kambas National Park,
Sumatra; a review of the centres operations and recommendations for the future. Department of Biological Sciences,
Manchester Metropolitan University, PhD thesis.
5. Stremme C. 1998. Significant veterinary problems caused by the training methods utilized by
elephant training (ETC) in Sumatra, Indonesia; a report on behalf of Fauna & Flora International, to the Sumatran
elephant training centers at Lhokseumawe, Sebanga, and Way Kambas, Sumatra 29.04.98-13.05.98.