Lao Captive Elephant Care & Manangement Programme

/ / / Lao Captive Elephant Care & Manangement Programme

FINAL REPORT

TITLE OF THE PROJECT: LAO CAPTIVE ELEPHANT CARE & MANAGEMENT PROGRAMME

Principle Investigator

Name & Title:           Sébastien DUFFILLOT, Program manager (Conservation)

Institution:                ElefantAsia non profit organization

Institution Address:  ElefantAsia (Head office) 22, rue de l’arcade, 75008 Paris, France

ElefantAsia (Laos Office) c/o National Animal Health Centre

Ban Khunta, Po Box 3804 Vientiane, Lao PDR

Phone, Fax, email:    +856 20 5025326 [email protected]

Co- investigator(s)

Name & Title:            Gilles MAURER, Program manager (Vet care)

Institution:                  ElefantAsia non profit organization

Institution Address:    ElefantAsia Laos Office c/o National Animal Health Centre

Ban Khunta, Po Box 3804 Vientiane, Lao PDR

Phone, Fax, email:      +856 20 5418730 [email protected]

Project

Period of project: 1/1/2008 to 12/31/2008

Total Project Budget:   $ 91,383

Total Requested from the International Elephant Foundation: $11,792

Project Category

____ Zoo Research

____ Field Research

_X__Field Conservation

_X__Conservation Education

_X__Professional Training/Technology Transfer/Capacity Building

____ Habitat Protection

____ Other

Table of Contents

Summary………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..4

Initial Lao Captive Elephant Care & Management Programme Goals, Objectives and Final Results………5

General Objectives………………………………………………………………………………….. 5

Specific objectives………………………………………………………………………………….. 5

Project Outputs ……………………………………………………………………………………… 6

PROJECTS FUNDED BY THE IEF 01/10/2007 – 31/12/2008 ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 7

Activity 1. Training of Trainers (TOT)………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 7

Summary of Activity 1…………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 8

Activity 2. Training of District level Livestock Officers and veterinarians …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………8

Summary of Activity 2.……………………………………………………………………………………………………………..9

Activity 3: Elephant Care Mobile Unit…………………………………………………………………………………………………………10

Summary of Activity 3. ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..11

Activity 4. Awareness raising – Elephant Information House.…………………………………………………………………………………………………….12

Summary of Activity 4……………………………………………………………………………………………………………..12

PROJECTS NOT FUNDED BY THE IEF 01/10/2007 – 31/12/2008 ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..13

Activity 5. Domesticated elephant registration and microchipping.……………………………………………………………………………………….13

Summary of Activity 5………………………………………………………………………………………………………………15

Activity 6. Mahout training: Elephant Care Manual ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..15

Summary of Activity 6………………………………………………………………………………………………………………16

Budget Summary 1/10/2007 – 19/12/2008 …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………17

IEF Final Report Summary…………………………………………………………………………………19

LIST OF APPENDICIES………………………………………………………………………………………….20

Summary

ElefantAsia  is  an  International  Non Government  Organisation  (INGO)  dedicated  to  the  protectionand conservation of Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) in the Lao PDR. Domesticated elephants inLaos are mainly employed in rural and remote areas of the Sayaboury Province, engaging in legal orillegal logging activities. In such isolated conditions many working elephants never receive veterinarycare for chronic diseases or disorders afflicting them.

The  Lao  PDR  is  a  nation  lacking  in  skilled  veterinarians  and  access  to  formal  veterinary  training.Currently  in  Laos  there  are  no  schools  or  universities  offering  veterinary  training  degrees.Veterinarians in the Lao PDR are either aging officials who received overseas training some 30 yearsago in former soviet nations, or are simply villagers with self taught knowledge of animal care. Withthat in mind please view the terminology of ‘veterinarian’ in this report as a person with basic animal skills,  not  someone  who  has  received  formal  or  recognised  accredited  education  in  veterinarian science, unless otherwise stated.

The Lao PDR is considered by the UNDP as a lesser developed nation, with the Sayaboury Province one of  the  poorest  in  the  entire  country.  ElefantAsia’s  Lao  Captive  Elephant  Care & Management Programme identified many  areas  in  Sayaboury  where  domesticated  elephant  vet  care,  education and conservation efforts could be enormously improved. Funding provided by the IEF for the period 01/10/2007  –  31/12/2008  have  significantly  contributed  to  these  areas  that  needed  chronic improvement. This Final Report endeavours to provide the IEF with an understanding of all targeted outcomes of the Lao Captive Elephant Care & Management Programme.

Initial Lao Captive Elephant Care & Management Programme Goals, Objectives and Final Results

General Objectives

  • Improve the living conditions and socio economic development of local people working with domesticated elephants.
  • Improve the welfare and safeguard the Lao elephant as an economic assets and a national

and cultural heritage.

Specific objectives

Objective:     Improve technical skills of veterinarians at national and provincial level in the field                                                                                                                                                                                                         .                    of specific elephant care.

Final Result:  See Activities 1, 2, 3.

Objective:     Improve mahout skills in the fields of elephant basic care and management.

Final Result:  See Activity 3 and Activity 6.

Objective:     Launch an information campaign.

Final Result:  See Activity 4.

Objective: Set up a nationwide registration process/database.

Final Result:  See Activity 2 and Activity 5.

Objective:     Provide  medicines  and  medical  equipment  to  provincial  livestock

departments(dispensaries).

Final Result:  Included in Activity 2.

Objective:    Increase elephant birth ratio (breeding programme).

Final Result:  Ongoing through the analysis of registration statistics and population forecasting.

Objective: Improve  livelihoods  of  people  working  with  elephants  by  supporting  income

generating  activities,  in  particular  promote  fair  and  eco friendly  tourism  activities

with elephants.

Final Result:  Ongoing with  ElefantAsia  collaborating  with ecotourism  tour  operators  to promote the reconversion of logging elephants into elephant trekking.

Objective:  Restore  the  status  of  the  mahout  by  transferring  their  knowledge  to  future

generations.

Final Result:  Ongoing.

Project Outputs

Output:   Capacity  building:  Arranging  veterinary  training  workshops  to  strengthen  the

capabilities  of  government  personnel  in  the  field  of  elephant  healthcare  and

management.

Final Result:  Completed

Output:   Design and implement a nationwide elephant registration database.

Final Result:  Establishment  completed.  Registration  ongoing  as  the  Mobile  Veterinary  Unit

continues to register domesticated elephants.

Output:   Operate a mobile veterinary unit (elephant registration, training & vet care).

Final Result:  Establishment completed. Mobile Veterinary Unit operations continually ongoing.

Output:   Publish an Elephant Care Manual (or Mahout’s Handbook).

Final Result:  Completed and ready to print. An abridged version has already being distributed to an approximate 350 mahouts.

Output:  Support the creation of an “Elephant Keeper’s Association”.

Final Result:  Ongoing,  with  meetings  organised  to  discuss  the  Elephant  Keeper’s  Association  in September 2009.

Output:  Promote income generating activities such as ecotourism.

Final Result:  Ongoing,  as  ElefantAsia  offers  mahouts  incentives  to  reconvert  from  logging

activities to ecotourism.

Output:  Set  up  “Elephant  Information  House”  in  Vientiane  and  Luang  Prabang  to  help

funding vet care operations and promote fair tourism with elephants.

Final Result:  Completed.

Output:  Set up district dispensaries (medicine storage facilities) PHASE II.

Final Result:  Ongoing with the district dispensaries project currently being reviewed.

Output:  Launch  an  elephant  reproduction  programme  (breeding  centre/incentive  to

mahouts) PHASE II.

Final Result:  Ongoing, with ElefantAsia providing breeding incentives to mahouts.

Summary of initial Goal and Objectives

ElefantAsia’s  general  objectives  remain  the  same  with  the  organisation making  progress  towards improving living conditions and the socio economic situation of local communities living and working with  domesticated  elephants.  Our  projects  have  been  so  successful  that  ElefantAsia’s  latest Memorandum  of  Understanding  with  the  Government  of  Laos  now  allows  the  organisation  to perform domesticated elephant conservation work in more districts and provinces of the Lao PDR. This is a big indicator of approval from the Government of Laos, and a sign that our objectives and outputs  are  making  positive  contributions  to  domesticated  elephant  conservation  and  for  remote communities of the Lao PDR

LAO CAPTIVE ELEPHANT CARE & MANAGEMENT PROGRAMME

PROJECTS FUNDED BY THE IEF 01/10/2007 – 31/12/2008

Activity 1. Training of Trainers (TOT)

As  stated  in  the  IEF  Mid Term  Report,  in  December  2007  ElefantAsia  hired  two  internationally qualified veterinarians, Dr Bonnefont and Dr Cohen. Within their first month with ElefantAsia both Dr Bonnefont and Dr Cohen undertook two weeks elephant care training at the Thai Elephant Care Centre, Lampang, Thailand.

On return from the Thai Elephant Care Centre Dr Bonnefont and Dr Cohen transferred their recent and  past  learned  professional  skills  to  ElefantAsia’s  Mobile  Veterinary  Unit  vet  assistant  Ms Chanthavong  and  ECMU’s  government  counterpart  veterinarian Mr  Phouang.  Theoretical training was delivered  in  ElefantAsia’s head office  in  Vientiane,  with practical  experience  applied  onsite at logging camps. See Figures 1 and 2 for images of Dr Bonnefont and Dr Cohen working in the Lao PDR.

Capacity skills both veterinarians taught to Ms Chanthavong and Mr Phouang included:

The importance of gaining information regarding an elephant’s past medical history.

How  to  systematically  observe  and  document  the  health  and  medical  status  of  a

domesticated elephant.

The importance of sanitation, wound hygiene and the use of prophylaxis.

The most effective methods of elephant disease and injury diagnosis and treatment in the

Lao PDR.

The best methods of simply yet effectively imparting important information to mahouts who

may have received very little formal education.

Final Results

Training of Trainers has proven to be both extremely effective and successful. Both Ms Chanthavong and Mr  Phouang  have demonstrated  great  improvement  in  their  theoretical  knowledge,  technical and communication skills. Through the  TOT, both Ms Chanthavong and Mr Phouang have become invaluable assets to ElefantAsia’s ECMU. Ms Chanthavong’s technical skills improved so much to the extent that she was recently permitted to undertake two weeks training at the Thai Elephant Care Centre, a  centre  usually only  accepting  internationally qualified  veterinarians or working  mahouts. Ms Chanthavong was the only woman and the only Lao national at the Thai centre, an indicator of the  sustainability  and  success of  the  TOT  program. As  a  Lao  government  official Mr  Phouang  had previously undertaken training at the Thai Elephant Care Centre. Following TOT Ms Chanthavong and Mr Phouang can now:

Efficiently organise rural and remote field missions and liaise with the relevant government

officials.

Independently purchase the necessary veterinary equipment needed for all field missions.  Comprehensibly  document  all  field  missions  and  medications  given  to  domesticated elephants.

Confidently and independently train mahouts and elephant owners in all aspects of elephant health care and management, see Figures 3 and 4.

Summary of Activity 1.

Training  of  Trainers  has  strengthened  the  skills  and  capabilities  of  the  two  Lao  nationals  working with  ElefantAsia’s  ECMU.  Both Ms  Chanthavong  and Mr  Phouang  have  subsequently  undertaken many  onsite  training  sessions  with  Lao  mahouts  regarding  elephant  health  care  and  elephant management.  These  sessions  have  positively  improved  the  sanitary  conditions  and  well being  of many domesticated elephants in the Lao PDR.

Activity 2. Training of District level Livestock Officers and veterinarians

Training  of  District level  livestock  officials  and  veterinarians  was  undertaken  by  ElefantAsia’s Ms Chanthavong and Mr Phouang, see Figure 5. Workshop training was considered necessary to:

Introduce officials to ElefantAsia’s Lao Elephant Care and Management Programme.

Capacity build  rural  government  official’s  knowledge  and  skills  and  their  role  in  elephant field mission organisation and information exchange.

Encourage communications and dialogue between districts and the Lao Elephant Care and Management Programme.

Undertake consultations with government district officials and veterinarians to gauge their needs and requirements regarding domesticated elephant care and management.

As stated in the IEF Mid Term Report, ElefantAsia postponed training until November 2008. This was due to the Sayaboury Provincial Department of Livestock and Fisheries officials recommending that one large workshop session with all districts representatives would be more effective for networking and communications than two smaller sessions.  The five day seminar was held in the Sayaboury provincial capital, which is conveniently located in the center of the province, allowing trainees from all districts to travel roughly the same distance to the meeting. A total of 22 District level livestock officials and veterinarians attended the workshops. Officials and veterinarians from all 10 districts of

the Sayaboury Province were represented.

The five day workshop was presented in the Lao dialect and covered:

  • Revision of the current Lao PDR Livestock Management Decree.
  • Revision of legal obligations regarding domesticated elephants, including the movement of elephants  from  districts,  elephant  buying  and  selling  taxes  and  the  reporting  of  elephant births and deaths.
  • The implementation of revised elephant registration forms.
  • The establishment of yearly reports regarding elephant statistics for each district.
  • District cooperation with ElefantAsia’s Elephant Care Mobile Unit and government official’s role in reporting any changes in domesticated elephant populations to ElefantAsia.
  • The possible future implementation of microchipping domesticated elephants.
  • Initialising a national domesticated elephant database.
  • The use of modern medical products for domesticated elephants.
  • The benefits elephant trekking/ecotourism can bring to local districts.
  • Future potential challenges domesticated elephant ownership may face in Sayaboury.
  • The  benefits  ElefantAsia  can  propose  to  mahouts  willing  to  undertake  domesticated elephant breeding.

Summary of Activity 2.

Whilst  ElefantAsia  have  a  successful  Elephant  Care  Mobile  Unit,  it  is  district  officials  and veterinarians that have many legal obligations to fulfil and have the most regular contact with sick or injured  elephants.  For  this  reason  it  was  considered  vital  that  officials  gain  a  comprehensive understanding of their legal requirements and veterinarians received detailed information regarding elephant  healthcare  and  product  usage.  All  workshop  attendees  received  written  documents regarding  the  seminars  for  their  future  reference,  see  example  of  the  training  documents  in Appendix A – in the Lao language.

The knowledge and capacity of government officials and veterinarians in the field of domesticated elephants  care  and  management  has  greatly  improved  since  the  2008  meeting.  ElefantAsia continues to have ongoing communications with all district representatives, via either telephone or during district field missions.

Activity 3: Elephant Care Mobile Unit

ElefantAsia’s Elephant Care Mobile Unit (ECMU) continues to go from strength to strength. As stated in  the Mid Term  report,  ElefantAsia  hired Ms  Chanthavong  as  the  Sayaboury  Programme  Officer. With  ElefantAsia’s  ECMU  now  permitted  to  travel  to  other  provinces, Ms  Chanthavong’s  position description  is now as  the Mahout Liaison  Officer, however her  duties remain the same with more added  responsibilities. Ms  Chanthavong  has  proven  to  be  an  ideal  employee,  (see  comments  in Activities 1 and 2) with her contract with ElefantAsia extended until at least December 2009.

The  initial  plan  was  for Ms  Chanthavong  to  undertake  training  at  the  Thai  Elephant  Conservation Centre  in  2008.  However  this  was  not  possible  due  to  the  centre’s  entry  requirements.  The  Thai Elephant  Care  Centre  needs  all  attendees  to  have  base line  knowledge  of  elephant  biology, physiology and healthcare. As Ms Chanthavong was newly employed by ElefantAsia, her training at the  Thai  Elephant  Care  Centre was postponed until  her  professional  and  technical  skills were  of a high  enough  standard.  She  has  since  gained  the  necessary  skills  and  has  undertaken  two  weeks training at the centre.

The initial proposal was for Ms Chanthavong to reside in the District of Paklay. This has not occurred, as she has family in the capital of Laos, Vientiane. As a result Ms Chanthavong spends half of her time on ECMU field missions in Sayaboury and other provinces. The remainder of her time is spent in ElefantAsia’s  Vientiane  office  writing  up  field  mission  reports,  elephant  medical  reports  and translating elephant registration cards into the English language.

Table 1 depicts all ECMU visits from the IEF funding period – October 2007 – December 2008. Ms Chanthavong  and  Mr  Phouang  have  been  present  during  all  ECMU  field  missions  and  were responsible for:

  • Domesticated elephant health checks and disease diagnosis.
  • Report writing of all field missions, medical status and medications given to elephants. This has  been  invaluable  documentation  leading  to  the  scientific  analysis  of  diseases  and disorders observed in domesticated elephants in Laos. See Appendix B.
  • Communications with mahouts and elephant owners about elephant preventative healthcare and post treatment recovery advice.
  • Domesticated elephant registration.

Table 1: ElefantAsia’s Elephant Care Mobile Unit. Field missions during IEF funding period 1/10/2007 – 19/12/2008

Summary of Activity 3.

The  EMVU  is  an  invaluable  asset  for  domesticated  elephant  healthcare  in  the  Lao  PDR.  Ms Chanthavong and Mr Phouang have shown their commitment and dedication to the ECMU. Without their  employment  domesticated  elephants  in  remote  areas  of  the  Lao  PDR  would  suffer  from sicknesses and injuries which would otherwise go untreated. See Figures 6, and 7 for examples of Ms Chanthavong and Mr  Phouang  working  with  the  ECMU.  The EMCU receives wide international attention, with film and radio media visiting the unit on a very regular basis to record the positive work undertaken by the ECMU team. View Appendix C for the latest article regarding the EMVU. Full media reviews can be sent to the IEF if requested.

Activity 4. Awareness raising – Elephant Information House.

Construction of ElefantAsia’s Elephant Information House was completed in July 2008. As stated in the  IEF  Mid Term  Report  only  one  elephant  centre  was  constructed  instead  of  the  two  originally proposed  in  the  initial  IEF  application.  The original Elephant Information House was moved from Vientiane to the UNESCO World Heritage Centre city of Luang Prabang in March 2008. This decision was made as Luang Prabang is a more compact and easily accessible city for visitors to walk around than Vientiane.

The Elephant Information House is staffed by a Lao national Mr Vong, and is open six days a week from 9am – 4:30pm. International volunteers also spend time  assisting  at  the  centre  and/or  distributing  Elephant  Information  House posters  and  brochures  throughout  Lang  Prabang.  As  shown  in  Figures  8,  9, and 10,  the  centre contains  information  signs,  local  handicraft products and provides information about how to chose a quality elephant camp or elephant trek  in  the  Lao  PDR.  Brochure design, printing and distribution was undertaken to promote the Elephant Information House, see Appendix D for an example of the brochure design and promotional stickers. There are plans to open the centre at night, but with the famous Luang Prabang night markets occurring each evening ElefantAsia are still deliberating whether this will be a cost effective decision.

Summary of Activity 4

By visiting the Elephant Information House, national and international visitors to Luang Prabang can improve their knowledge regarding the conservation management, status and threats facing Asian elephants in the Lao PDR. The Elephant  Information  House  promotes  environmentally  sustainable and  fair  ecotourism  projects  in  Laos,  and  is  a  unique  educational  resource  in  a  nation  where environmental interpretation is still a rarity. ElefantAsia intend to expand the educational capacity of the Elephant Information House by designing and distributing more interpretative material regarding domesticated elephant requirements, and how visitors can chose quality elephant tourist camps to visit.

LAO CAPTIVE ELEPHANT CARE & MANAGEMENT PROGRAMME

PROJECTS NOT FUNDED BY THE IEF 01/10/2007 – 31/12/2008

Activity 5. Domesticated elephant registration and microchipping.

Since the 2008 Application for IEF Financial Support, ElefantAsia has made significant progress in the field of registering domesticated elephants in the Lao PDR. Activity 2 in November 2008 (the training of  District level  livestock  officials  and  veterinarians),  introduced  a  new  registration  scheme  to government  officials  and  veterinarians.  Since  then,  the  ECMU  has  registered  an  approximate  380 domesticated  elephants  using  ElefantAsia’s  registration  card,  see  Figure  11  for  an  example  of ElefantAsia  registering  an  elephant.  Figures 12 and 13 depict the important information obtained using ElefantAsia’s registration system. All registration cards  are  kept  with  ElefantAsia’s  ECMU veterinarian Mr Phouang at the Sayaboury Department of Livestock and Fisheries office. Copies are taken to ElefantAsia’s head office to be translated into English with information then entered into a database system.

Table 2 is an example of the domesticated elephant registration information thatis entered into the database.  With  translations  and  registration  ongoing  the  elephant  database  is  not  yet  finalised. However  ElefantAsia  currently  has  a  PhD  candidate  from  the  University  of  Queensland,  Australia undertaking research with the organisation. Part of the candidate’s research will be to complete the elephant  registration  database  and  perform  robust  scientific  analysis  in  order  to  assess  the  best methods of population and conservation management for domesticated elephants in the Lao PDR.

ElefantAsia are currently in the process of having microchips and microchip scanners imported from the United State of America. Microchipping of domesticated elephants by ECMU staff is anticipated to begin before the end of 2009. Microchipping was unable to occur earlier to due to unavoidable governmental delays in gaining a Memorandum of Understanding regarding microchipping from the Government of Laos.  ElefantAsia  anticipate  that  the  microchipping of  domesticated  elephants  will safeguard  wild  elephants  from  capture  for  domesticated  use,  will  decrease  the  incidences  of international  border  smuggling,  as  well  as  having  many  other  conservation  benefits  for  both  wild and domesticated elephants.

Summary of Activity 5

The registration and microchipping of domesticated elephants are ongoing projects. Fortunately both can easily occur during routine visits and veterinary checks by ElefantAsia’s ECMU. ElefantAsia anticipate that some education regarding why elephants should be microchipped will be required for mahouts. Education about microchipping will be incorporated into mahout training sessions already held by ECMU staff Ms Chanthavong and Mr Phouang.  Once  the  registration  and  database  are completed,  ElefantAsia  will  undertake  further  effective  domesticated  elephant  conservation strategies.

Activity 6. Mahout training: Elephant Care Manual

The Elephant Care Manual (ECM) is completed, however is still awaiting printing and distribution. Figure 14 is a copy of the Front cover of the Lao ECM. Many delays occurred during the production of this project, including:

  • Difficulties  for  ElefantAsia  Lao  staff  in  translating  technical  words  from  the  English  to  Lao language, requiring the reediting of many sections.
  • The  Lao  version  is  an  approximate  140  A4  pages  in  length.  Given  its  size  there  were extremely  long  and  time consuming  proof reading  periods  by  three  Lao  national ‘veterinarians’.
  • Due  to  their  lack  of  educational  schooling  some  Lao  mahouts  prefer  visual  diagrammatic explanations rather than text. Additional photos and drawings had to be included in the Lao ECM version. These were time consuming for artists to draw.
  • There were many long periods of workplace absence due to health reasons by ElefantAsia’s government counterpart Dr.Hahn.  Dr.Hahn was responsible for the ECM translation, resulting in ElefantAsia only able to proceed with the ECM while Dr Hahn was fit enough to do so.
  • ElefantAsia are now waiting for a ‘Publication’ number for the ECM from the Lao Ministry of Information and Culture. Once this is received, ElefantAsia must take the publication number to the Lao National Library to receive an ISBN number. This may take several weeks.

Despite these delays ElefantAsia designed and distributed an 18 page abridged version of the ECM. Figures 15 and 16 are excerpts from the booklet, which covers basic topics such as how to clean and dress wounds, correctly make injections and the proper usage of basic medical products such as eye cleansers, balms and worming medications.  This booklet has already been distributed by ElefantAsia’s ECMU to an approximate 350 mahouts.

Summary of Activity 6

The ECM has been the project that has encountered the most unexpected and unavoidable delays. However  mitigation  strategies  were  applied  in  the  form  of  an  abridged  version  of  the  ECM. ElefantAsia have learned from this project and understand that English Lao technical translations are not as straightforward as it initially appears. However ElefantAsia are still extremely proud of the Lao version of the ECM, as it is one of only a handful of technical books and the only elephant related veterinary text currently existing written in the Lao language.

The veterinary care of domesticated elephants in Laos

Florence Labatut, DVM

Ingrid Suter, Bach Env.Man (Hons I)

ElefantAsia, NAHC, Vientiane, Laos, www.elefantasia.org

Summary:

The  domesticated  Asian  elephant  is  quickly  disappearing  in  the  Lao  PDR.  Only approximately 480 domesticated elephants remain in this range state. Since 2007 a mobile elephant clinic has worked in the logging  and  tourism  industries  to  treat  domesticated  elephants  and  advise  mahouts  and  owners.  Data shows that 347 domesticated elephant were registered within this timeframe with 422 medical disorders treated by the MVU (about 80% of all domesticated elephants in Laos). The main disorders were abscesses caused  by  overworking  in  the  logging  industry  in  the  north  and  digestive  complaints  in  the  south.  The

problem  of  inadequate  access  to  veterinary  drugs  and  the  need  for  training  of  official  veterinarian  staff remains. Domesticated elephant reproduction rates are very low, with only 20 animals under 10 years old and the future of the species unclear.

Introduction:

This article provide an analysis of the sanitary situation of domesticated elephants in the Lao PDR, a country where  the  elephant  holds  a  significant  status  both  culturally  and  as  a  animal  used  in  logging  and  more recently tourism.

Once a commonly occurring species, it is now estimated that only 1,200 elephant remain in compared to tens of thousands at the beginning of the 1900’s (Chadwick, 1991).  About 480 are domesticated, an 40% of the remaining population (Maurer and Duffillot 2009). The domesticated population has an extremely low birth rate resulting in an ageing population with only 20 domesticated elephants under the age of 10.

The legal status is dependent on the elephant’s classification.  Domesticated  elephants  are  viewed  as livestock  and  are  managed  by  the  national  Department  of  Livestock  and  Fisheries.  Wild elephant administration is undertaken by the Department of Wildlife and Forestry. The Lao PDR became signatory to the CITES convention in 2004, therefore trade and international sale of this globally endangered species is subject to regulation.  The  government  of  Laos  banned  the  capture  of  elephants  from  the  wild  for domesticated purposes in the late 1970s.

Domesticated  elephants  in  the  Lao  PDR  are  mainly  employed  in  the  logging  industry  in  the  north,  and tourism  in  the  south (Maurer  and  Duffillot  2009).  The  traditional  use  of  elephant  for  transportation  still occurs  in  small  remote  villages  where  there  is  employment  for  immature  and  unemployed  logging elephants.  Elephants  tend  to  be  only  used  in  areas  where  the  terrain  is  steep  and  roads  rare,  creating access problems.  With the banning of logging in Thailand, and concern this may happen in Laos owners are intensifying workloads to maximise financial gains.  This has lead to domesticated elephants being overworked with no time allowed for elephant reproduction.

Tourism  is  a  growing  industry,  1.7  million  tourists  visiting  Laos  in  2008  up  from  500,000  a  decade  ago ( LNTA, 2009).    Though  new  camps  are  established  each  year,  elephant  trekking  is  still  in  its  infancy.

Employment  for  domesticated  elephants  is  currently  low  but  could  be  significant  in  the  future.  Several elephants are employed in both logging and tourism.

Several ethnic groups possess traditional knowledge of elephant care and breeding such as the Tai Leu tribe in northern Laos and the Kui tribe, southern Laos. However as the image of a mahout is not highly regarded for younger generations, a widespread loss of knowledge regarding traditional medicine and elephant care has occurred.

To  rectify  this  situation,  ElefantAsia,  an  International  Non Government  Organisation  working  for  the protection  and  conservation  of  Asian  elephants  in  the  Lao  PDR  initiated  domesticated  elephant conservation  projects  in  2002.  Surveys on mahout socio conomic  needs led  in  2006  to  the commencement of the country’s first Mobile Veterinary Unit (MVU).  This MVU is based on a similar model used at the Lampang Elephant Sanctuary in Thailand.    Information on traditional elephant care and knowledge was translated from Thailand and elephant medical needs recommended from Fowler & Mikota (2006) and Evans (1910).  The  MVU  is  an  all terrain  vehicle,  fully  fitted  and  equipped  with  veterinary medication.  It  is  based  in  Sayaboury  Province,  a  north west  region  of  the  Lao  PDR,  which  contains  an

approximate 80% of all remaining domesticated elephants (Maurer and Duffillot 2009).  Though most field missions  occur  in  Sayaboury,  the  provinces  of  Champassak,  Saravane,  Luang  Prabang,  Oudomxay  and Vientiane are also visited.

The MVU team consists of one Lao government official from the relevant province and officials from the specific district visited. Officials  are  responsible  for  planning  each  mission  and  informing  mahouts of  the MVU’s  intended  visit.  ElefantAsia  employs  a  multi lingual mahout  liaison  officer  to  gauge  the  needs  and requirements  of  mahouts,  as  well  as  acting  as  a  translator  between  officials,  mahouts  and  any  foreign veterinarians joining the mission. Free elephant care training and first aid kits are also given to mahouts. The mahout liaison officer trains mahouts in the proper administering and application of supplies, with all

instructions listed in a free booklet written in the Lao language.

Proactive annual missions are organized to different villages and districts at prearranged meetings. Reactive emergency missions are initiated when needed. All medical treatment and supplies are given for free but to install a sense of ownership mahouts must purchase their own drugs for use when the MVU is not present. Most mahouts can afford veterinary expenses. An adult domesticated elephant is worth an approxiamate €10,625 and can earn up to €1,667 for two months work in the logging industry (Labatut, 2009a). A two day course of antibiotics for an average elephant costs approximately €7, with owners recommened buying 10 rounds of antibiotics if long term therapy is required. While these can be considered expensive purchases

in a least developed nation, the MVU shows elephant owners that the  price of medicine is relatively small when compared to the animal’s value.

Materials and methods:

Data was collected between December 2007 and July 2009 from field mission medical reports detailing all medical problems observed and treated. Desticated  elephants  are  registered  using  a  standardised registration form which contains  a unique elephant registration number and documents details including the elephant’s name, sex, origin, weight, gait and any medical history and care received. Details are entered into a national domesticated elephant database.

Results:

From  the  period  December  2007  to  July  2009  medical  care  was  administered  to  347  individual domesticated  elephants,  55%  female,  45%  male.  Employment  varied  with  78%  working  in  the  logging industry,  10%  in  tourism  and  12%  village  work  or  unemployed  at  the  time  of  treatment.  Deaths vastly outweigh births, with an approximate one birth for every 10 deaths.

The reasons given for an elephant’s death are unreliable as post mortems rarely occur and mahouts fear repercussions for the occurrence of possibly preventable deaths. Additionally, the death of a domesticated elephant was previously only notified to Department of Livestock and Fisheries when annual livestock taxes were due, making disease diagnosis impossible. However the notification of deaths is slowly being reported more frequently.   From January 2009 – July 2009, 10 domesticated elephant deaths were recorded in the Sayaboury Province. Causes given for these deaths include tusk fractures, diarrhoea, overworking, old age, poaching and septicaemia.

Figure 1 indicates the most commonly occurring disorders observed in domesticated elephants treated by the MVU in the Lao PDR. Figure 2 is a breakdown of the less frequently found disorders. Percentages are calculated from a total of 315 individuals with 422 medical conditions recorded and analysed.

As shown in Figures 1 and 2, most disorders can be associated with work in the logging industry; abcesses cause by chains, superficial wounds and eye problems due to chronic irritations. Complaints are more commonly observed in districts where elephant breeding is a new activity and mahouts are young and professionally inexperienced. Domesticated elephants in logging camps are often observed in very poor conditions with chronic and long lasting medical conditions. These areas also possess higher indicences of inexperienced mahouts being killed by their elephants.

Figure 3 shows the parasitic species recorded in a study of 13 elephants in 2008. Digestives strongles are the most common parasite. A good deworming  programme can  decrease  parasites  by  nearly  95%  after using drugs. For the MVU programme, two drugs are used: Mebendazol for elephants without symptoms of externals parasitises and Dufamec for elephants showing external symptoms.

Ventral oedema is rare. Dufamec is successful in treating external parasitises however it is an irritant and can cause numerous abscesses at the site of injection. This can unfortunately make mahouts distrustful about modern medicine. For this reason, Mebendazol was used 84 % of the time.

Incidences  of  uncontrolled  musth  have  increased  due  to  the  decline  in  traditional  knowledge  and musth management. Some elephants are still employed rather than being seperated and isolated in remote areas as recommended in Gale (1966, pp 45 55). Five emergency visits were undertaken in the last 18 months to logging camps to tranquelize uncontrolable bulls and in 2008 one bull was shot and killed by his mahout to prevent injury.

Given geographical and infrastructure constraints, surgery or minor operations are not possible. The only big pathological conditions which can be successfully treated and cured onsite are the treatement of severe abcesses.  Veterinarins  with  the MVU can open abscesses  with  a  scalpel  but  this  should  only  occur  if  the mahout agrees to allow the elephant to rest and not work for several days after the procedure.The abscess wound  is  cleaned  and  flushed  with  an  antispectic  solution  such  as  dilluted  Betadine.  Once clean an antibiotic spray containing oxytetracyclin is applied. Oxyblue Spray brand is ususallly used for this purpose. Negasunt,  an  insecticidal  powder  is  also  applied  to  protect  the  open  wound  from  flies.  Intra muscular broad spectrum  antibiotics  such  as  penicillin streptomycin  50ml  is  provided  to  animals  which  have  an abscess greater than 10 centimetres. The freshness, consistency and location on the body of the abcsess is also a consideration for antibiotic use.


The  duration  of  a  course  of  antibiotics  for  treating  an  abcess  is  dependant  on  the  size  and  age  of  the abscess. Vitamin therapy is sometimes administered in the instance of weightloss or marked apathy in the elephant. Recovery is predicated on the post treatment advice taken on by the mahout.

Eye discharge is common (15% of all cases treated) due to dust conditions. Eye discharge only becomes a cause for concern when the discharge changes colour, consistency or frequency. A  low  to moderate eye discharge  is  common  in  90%  of  all  domesticated  elephants  observed  in  Laos.  Eye problems observed in domesticated elephants can be seperated into two catagories: Chronic diseases such as cataracts, corneal opacity, blindness, and acute diseases associated with red eyes and continual running fluid. An eye flush with physiological fluid such as Opsar is advised when running fluid is moderate. In the cases of red eyes or signs of eye infections an antibiotic eyedrop containing chloramphenical like Archifen  is applied. Without proper diagnostic tools available in the Lao PDR, the use of eyedrops cntaining corticoids is not possible.

Disgestive disorders such as diarrhoea and constipation account for 10% of cases seen. These are observed more  frequently  in  elephants  living  in  southern  Laos  where  the  weather  is  drier  and  sources  of  clean drinking water fewer.

Foot care treatment in Laos is very simple and works on the “maximum restraint” technique. Mahouts are advised to put their elephant in an area of the forest where there is sufficient food and water within a very mall spatial area. Two baths per day are also advised to prevent imflammation, after which an analgesic balm such as Counterpain should be applied in the instance of a fracture or chronic limping.

Other  diseases  observed  but  only  rarely  include  dermatitis  and  gential  infections.  Dermatitis is generally treated by improving skin health. The best remedies in the Lao PDR for his is to ensure the elephant has an increased number of baths, is dewormed and disinfected on a regular basis.  Diagnosis of dermatalogical etiology is not currently possible in the Lao PDR. Gential disorders are diagnosed by changes in the colour and smell of urine. Usually problems observed are at a chronic stage. Urinary infections are treated with antiboitics such as oxytetracycline with courses reccommended for at least 15 days.

Discussion:

The  MVU  plays  an  essential  role  in  supplying  much needed  veterinary  treatment  to  domesticated elephants.  Visiting  73%  of  the  population,  the  MVU  can  reach  a  high  percentage  of  domesticated elephants. However, there are a number of factors that limits elephant veterinary work in Laos.

Currently  there  are  no  veterinary  schools  in  the  country  and  the  majority  of  the  80  Lao  national veterinarians  were  trained  decades  ago.  The  country  lacks  laboratories  capable  of  detecting  major infectious  diseases  such  as  turberculosis,  EEHV or pox fever,  so  veterinary  treatment  is  reliant  on symptomatic  observations  rather than etoligical diagnosis.  The MVU has no labaratory equipment to perform pathology. This also limits treatment of digestive isorders so after animals are dewormed, traditional dietary changes are given such as feeding sticky rice, coconut leaves and tamarind for diarrhoea. If persisting antibiotics such as  oxytetracyclin are reommneded for a period of five days. Constipation in domesticated elephants is treated by feeding Chinese watermelons or palm leaves.

The remoteness of logging camps makes access to certain areas difficult.  Acquiring medical supplies in such areas is also difficult and most drugs used are imported from Thailand directly to ElefantAsia headquarters in Vientiane.  As rural areas do not carry most medicines required for elephant healthcare and there is a risk of spillage if medical supplies are transported.  Medicines are preferred if they are readily available at provincial or district pharmacies.

As it is the elephant owners and mahouts that care for domesticated elephants on a daily basis, and post treatment rehabiliation is reliant on the mahout, it is essential that they are provided with basic medical and product training. Local education about the animal’s conservation status and the need for reproductionis also critical if the elephant population is to recover. To improve veterinary skills, a short educational booklet written in Lao is being distributed. This gives practical information regarding elephant care, product use and dosage rates. The Elephant Care Manual (2005) from Thailand will also be translated and given free to all elephant owners, mahouts and tourist camps working with domesticated elephants.

Currently domesticated elephants in Laos are not vaccinated against preventable diseases.This is due to a fear amongst mahouts about vaccines, and a lack of understanding about the need for preventative medicine. One of the MVU’s current projects is  to  provide  mahouts with  a  clear  understanding  of preventative  medicine  techniques  and  benefits. Once mahouts and elephant owners are educated, a vaccine program can be implemented within field missions.

Instances of treatment are similar to those found in other areas. Endo and ecto parasites were the second most  common  disorders  and  were  also  common  in  Sumatra  (Stremme  et  al,  2007).  Instances of foot diseases in domesticated elephants are minor (10% of cases) when compared to those of captive elephants in zoos (Culti et al 2001). In most cases no pain or discomfort was shown by the elephant. Nevertheless foot infections  do  occur  mainly  after  working  accidents,  UXO  explosions  or  damage  from  foreign  objects.  In severe cases treatment and care for these problems is often very prolonged with no artifical support such as plaster casts available in Laos. Unfortunately this means any elephant that cannot physically support itself is destined to die.

Acknowledgements

We would like to thank all the staff working with the MVU, especially Mr Sebastien Duffillot and Mr Gilles Maurer. The assistance of Mr David Bowles from the RSPCA  is gratefully acknowledged his support for the MVU and his useful comments on the draft.

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Appendix C:

Article published in the Wall Street

Journal, September 2009


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