Research

International Elephant Foundation Strategy In Support Of Elephant Conservation

IEF-supported projects protect elephants from poaching, seek solutions for human-elephant conflict, equip and train community conservationists, increase our knowledge of the treatment and prevention of disease and educate people. In 2017, IEF will provide over $600,000 to support elephant conservation around the world, adding to the over $4 million total invested in conserving elephants since our inception in 1998. The following elephant conservation projects will receive support from IEF in 2017
 


 

Ex Situ

EEHV Genomics and Pathogenesis
IEF is continuing its long-term funding of research to understand and combat the devastating acute hemorrhagic disease caused by some strains of Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesvirus (EEHV). This novel group of mammalian herpesviruses discovered in 1999 (also known as Probosciviruses) has been responsible for the deaths of 20% of all Asian elephant calves born in zoos and elephant housing facilities over the past 25 years. The same virus types have also been confirmed to be present in nearly 86 lethal cases in wild, orphan and camp-reared Asian elephant calves within at least six different Asian elephant range countries over the last ten years and thus represent another of the many difficult to control factors threatening the long-term breeding success and survival of the highly threatened Asian elephant worldwide. This project conducts extensive genetic analyses of virus positive samples from Asian and African elephants and has thus far revealed that these infections are endemic in both host species. Most, if not all, elephants may become latently infected with different types of EEHV in their lifetimes, therefore it is important for this research to not only identify and categorize the strains of EEHV but understand the differences between types and understand why one type (EEHV1A) is far more dangerous to calves than the others. This research has served as the foundation for most EEHV research around the world.

 


 

Identification of Candidate Proteins for an EEHV Vaccine
Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesvirus (EEHV) is one of the most significant causes of mortality in young Asian elephants. Cases have been identified in elephants in human care and in the wild. While significant progress has been made in diagnosing and treating EEHV hemorrhagic disease, a vaccine could provide a long-term solution. Dr. Paul Ling’s lab at the Baylor College of Medicine has established a test that can identify virus components that cause robust immune system responses in elephants. Studies in human herpesviruses have identified categories of proteins that induce immune responses that protect against the disease. Approximately 27 proteins encoded with a prototype EEHV1A genome fit into these categories. This study will test some of those proteins to identify which can induce the most robust immune response in elephants. The goal is to identify a core set of EEHV proteins that would be part of a first generation EEHV vaccine.

 


 

Pharmacokinetics of Rectally and Orally Administered Levofloxacin in Asian elephants
When following established, husbandry protocols, tuberculosis in elephants is a manageable and treatable disease. Treatment requires a multi-drug regime, with primary and secondary medications. The current most commonly used secondary medication, enrofloxacin, has been clinically shown to have an increased incidence of side effects when dosages are increased to achieve therapeutic blood levels. Another antibiotic, levofloxacin, has been safely used in elephants as part of tuberculosis treatment but current dosage levels are based on experience. The Elephant Tuberculosis Stakeholder’s Task Force has identified the need for a pharmacokinetic study on levofloxacin in elephants. IEF is supporting this study to scientifically make recommendations on dosages for administering levofloxacin to achieve effective therapeutic blood levels, benefitting both the treatment of elephant tuberculosis as well as other bacterial infections.

 


 

Relevancy of African and Asian Elephants in Zoological Facilities
Conservation education is a significant component to accredited zoological facilities. Historically, one metric used as an indicator of conservation education impact has been number of visitors. This study attempts to explore the impact of visiting a zoo on a person’s knowledge, attitude, and behavior. The goal is to examine the overall influence and relevant factors that lead to conservation intent with respect to African and Asian elephants post viewing at accredited facilities. While not directly related to illegal ivory trade, this study will allow better understanding of how experiences with elephants in human care can change visitor interest in changing their consumer behavior.