Sumatra is the home range of the most endangered Asian elephant subspecies Elephas maximus sumatranus. An increasing human population, loss of forest for agricultural use, and poaching has resulted in human-elephant conflicts. Due to these increasing threats on the long-term survival of the elephants of Sumatra, the Indonesian government elected to capture elephants for placement in Elephant Conservation Centers (ECC). Beginning in 2006, there are about 600 captive Sumatran elephants residing in elephant conservation centers under governmental management or in privately managed facilities like zoos, safari and recreation parks, and timber companies.2 There are a number of problems in all these elephant conservation centers which include a lack of veterinary supplies and equipment, poorly trained staff, and sporadic veterinary services.1
Following a trip on behalf of the International Elephant Foundation (IEF), to the Seblat ECC in Benkulu province, Sumatra, we obtained funding to conduct a veterinary training workshop. This funding was sought due to the current veterinary practice at the Seblat camp which consisted solely of annual visual examinations and vaccinations for rabies and tetanus, anthelmintic treatment orally with ivermectin, and body weight determinations. We believed that with proper training of staff, a more thorough annual examination could be accomplished, as well as additional veterinary services. The workshop, conducted in June 2008, was hosted by the ECC in Way Kambas, southern Sumatra, and attended by camp veterinarians, veterinary paramedics, and mahouts. Goals of the workshop were as follows: (1) improve knowledge of the elephant caretakers through presentation of lectures on preventive health care, anatomy, physiology, common diseases, medical treatments, and surgical techniques; (2) provide instruction on collection and processing of biologic samples, performing a complete physical exam, complete blood count, fecal parasite exams, urinalysis, and parasite identification; and (3) distribute a laboratory manual describing the proper care of laboratory equipment (e.g., microscope, centrifuge, refractometer, hemocytometer), processing of biologic samples, and images depicting blood cell types and common parasites. The workshop, although originally designed for 15 participants, was attended by over 50 individuals including veterinarians, government officials, veterinary paramedics, and mahouts representing the six ECC’s in Sumatra, as well as other elephant facilities in Indonesia. The president of the Indonesian Veterinary Medical Association indicated the interest was a result of this being the first workshop of its kind for veterinary paramedics in Indonesia. Participants were enthusiastic and many demonstrated a desire to increase their knowledge and develop skills necessary to perform laboratory tests and assist camp or visiting veterinarians in providing care for the elephants. The knowledge base, experience level, and skill set varied considerably among participants. Some participants reported that their camps lack the necessary equipment to perform the laboratory tests, while others reported they had the equipment but expressed doubts this would be considered a priority by their camp managers.
Future workshops will seek funding to address the specific needs of each camp, help obtain equipment, provide camp managers with a first-hand demonstration of the benefits of an improved health care program, and tailor the laboratory curriculum to the individual veterinary paramedic and mahout. We feel continuation of elephant care workshops for veterinary paramedics and mahouts will result in sufficient and sustainable health care for this genetically valuable population of Sumatran elephants.
This workshop was funded by the International Elephant Foundation, the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, and the Veterinary Society for Sumatran Wildlife Conservation. The authors thank the staff at the National Park and Elephant Conservation Center at Way Kambas for hosting this workshop, particularly Pak Nazaruddin; the translators Drh. Andriansyah (Sumatran Rhinoceros Sanctuary), and Drh. Wahdi Azmi (FFI); as well as Drh. Muhammad Wahyu (Vesswic) and Heidi Riddle (IEF).
1. Mikota SK. Sumatra’s elephant training centers: a call for assistance. In: Proceeding from the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians, Int Assoc Aqu Anim Med. 2000;127–129.
2. Stremme C, Lubis A, Wahyu M. Implementation of regular veterinary care for captive Sumatran elephants. Gajah. 2006;27:6–14.