Press Release, February 21, 2019
International Elephant Foundation Announces Support for Elephants in 13 Countries Across 3 Continents
The International Elephant Foundation (IEF) announced their support for 24 conservation projects in 13 countries spanning 3 continents, adding to the over $5.5 million in direct conservation funding since its founding.
IEF’s projects address elephant conservation based on the needs of individual regions and communities, focusing on anti-poaching patrols, habitat protection, human-elephant conflict mitigation, education, preventing disease, and research.
From the shores of Zambia’s Lake Tanganyika to the forests of the Republic of Guinea and the countries in between, this year’s projects provide security, capacity building and infrastructure development for the protection of Africa’s forest and savannah elephants, while in Asia IEF’s footprint stretches from the forests of India and Nepal to Myanmar and the island of Sumatra protecting and securing habitat for Asian elephants including the critically endangered Sumatran elephant. There are only 400,000 African elephants left worldwide, and Asian elephants number a shocking 40,000 in the wild, making IEF’s efforts more imperative than ever.
It is not just elephants who benefit from these efforts, as IEF President Michael Fouraker points out, “Elephants are a keystone species, meaning other fauna and flora depend on their presence in the ecosystem. By protecting elephants we are protecting tigers, rhinos, pangolins, giraffes, cheetahs, hornbills, and much more. When donors, including zoos and zoo-goers, support IEF they are helping many species beyond the charismatic elephants who inspired them.”
“While elephants in human care often get a bad rap, one of the least discussed aspects of elephant ambassadors is their capacity to teach people to care and inspire conservation action across the world,” said Fouraker. “Most people will never travel to the lowland forests of Sumatra and see critically endangered Sumatran elephants, but IEF is able to help save them, their habitat, and all other wildlife who share that habitat because of the elephants here in the United States.” In 2019 IEF is supporting 12 Conservation Response Units (CRUs) on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, one of the longest running Asian elephant conservation projects in the world.
Many of IEF’s 2019 projects bridge the gap between ex-situ and in-situ elephant populations, including exciting research taking the next step towards a vaccine for Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesvirus (EEHV), which affects young elephants in human care and in the wild, is over 80% fatal, and has no known cure. Domestic elephants offering biological samples and access to researchers will help save the lives of generations of elephants in Earth’s last remaining wild places. “There is real hope that progress will be made to fight and prevent this insidious disease,” said Deborah Olson, IEF’s Executive Director.
Be it in Asia or Africa, in the lab to in the field, IEF is ready to help secure a better future for elephants and all wild creatures in wild places.
2019 INTERNATIONAL ELEPHANT FOUNDATION (IEF) PROJECT SUPPORT
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 2019, IEF will provide over $650,000 to support elephant conservation around the world, adding to the over $5.5 million total invested in conserving elephants since our inception in 1998. The following elephant conservation and research projects will receive support from IEF in 2019:
Anti-Poaching Support for Nsumbu National Park
Nsumbu National Park contains the last viable population of African elephants in northern Zambia and southeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and the only population along the shores of Lake Tanganyika. Poaching of elephants has been reduced drastically since 2012 due to support from international and local NGOs, but the number of government rangers in the area continues to be critically low. To protect the elephants and preserve conservation gains in the area, this project focuses on growing the Nsama Community Scout Protection Unit, a project supported by IEF since 2016. This year IEF will continue support of the patrol team to ensure continued stability for this threatened and isolated African elephant population.
Big Tusker Project
The Tsavo Conservation Area (TCA) holds Kenya’s largest elephant population and the largest sustainable gene pool of elephants carrying exceptionally large ivory (over 100 pounds per tusk). In 2014 there were 15 of these iconic Tuskers alive. By the end of 2015 there were 11 and by mid-2016 there were only 10 remaining. Massive in size and largely roadless, TCA and its Big Tusker inhabitants are protected by aerial coverage. Working in collaboration with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), the Big Tusker Project also provides aerial backup to anti-poaching operations, participates in censuses and scientific research, and monitors elephant populations including the numerous younger bulls that are classified as emerging tuskers demonstrating promise for the future. IEF continues our multi-year support with a special focus on the Iconic Cows (female big tuskers), the mothers, sisters and daughters of the Big Tuskers, whose genetics are also valuable to conservation efforts of this iconic population.
Boots on the Ground-Ziama 2.0
Republic of Guinea
African forest elephants are suffering a devastating rate of decline, with over 60% of all forest elephants lost within the last decade due to poaching. The Ziama Forest is the home to the only viable forest elephant population in the Republic of Guinea, with approximately 200 individuals who play a vital role in the biodiversity and habitat health of the region. In 2018 IEF supported equipping the game rangers and eco-guards with boots, backpacks, and supplies. In 2019 IEF is supplying tents, bed rolls, GPS units and cameras to enable this valuable patrol team to undertake multi-day patrols deeper into unprotected regions of the forest.
Conservation of Elephants in Key Areas of Murchison Falls Conservation Area (MFCA)
Over the last ten years, IEF has supported the construction of ten ranger stations in MFCA – both land and marine – in an attempt to take back the park from poachers. Where ranger stations have been established, wildlife is returning and snares and leg hold traps which are decimating many animal populations such as lions and antelope, as well as maiming and killing animals such as elephants and endangered Rothschild’s giraffe are found and removed demonstrating the success of the project. In 2019 IEF is supporting the construction of additional stations in the heart of poaching country where there is no ranger presence, and a Joint Operating Command Centre (JOCC) to coordinate all of the Park’s ranger and security operations.
Elephant Deterrents, Behavioral Responses, and Ecological Correlates of Crop-Raiding
Negative encounters with people result in poor relations between local peoples and wildlife, loss of livelihoods, and injury or death to people and elephants. A continuation of the program IEF has supported for 2 years, this project tests and evaluates the effectiveness of different methods of human elephant conflict (HEC) mitigation and crop protection. This study investigates means to reduce HEC through deterrents by testing the effectiveness of a variety of methods both on their own and when used in combination with each other. This year beehive and bee pheromone fencing is being included for evaluation and comparison. Behavioral and ecological correlates will also be studied to explore connections to crop raiding as will climate-smart agriculture practices for sustainable farming.
Elephant Utilization of the Kaifeng-Zambezi Wildlife Corridor of KAZA TFCA
The Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA) in southern Africa is one of the world’s largest conservation areas, encompassing 520,000 km2 across 5 countries. One of the main objectives of KAZA TFCA is to establish wildlife connectivity throughout its protected landscape, yet in the face of ongoing habitat loss through illegal land clearing and logging, the Zambian component of KAZA TFCA is irreversibly losing its capacity to provide functional wildlife movement corridors. Identification and protection of wildlife movement, land use planning, and anti-poaching activities require quality data about wildlife activities and human disturbances, which this study will provide via GPS collared elephants. Another component of this project builds upon the previously IEF funded work to mitigate human-elephant conflict using electric poliwire fencing of crops, which has been successfully trialed and is being put into use over a greater area.
Enabling Human-Elephant Co-existence Through Applied Research and Stakeholder Engagement
Understanding how elephants utilize lands outside of protected areas is important for planning effective conservation actions. Due to an elephant population that has increased over several decades and recent ecological changes in northern Botswana, the range of elephants in the country has significantly expanded. In many areas, these movements have brought people and elephants into increasing conflict, with detrimental impacts on both sides. This project will obtain movement and demographic data on elephants utilizing communal lands bordering the national park. This information will help local communities mitigate the impacts and dangers that elephants pose to their livelihoods, and enable conservationists to engage national stakeholders to use these data for land management and wildlife policies creating a safe and sustainable future for elephant and humans.
Mount Kenya Horse Patrol Team
Protecting a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Mount Kenya Horse Patrol Team enhances the capacity of law enforcement personnel to decrease the level of poaching and other illegal activities in the northwestern section of Mount Kenya and beyond. Supported by IEF since 2014, this project both protects elephants and addresses human-elephant conflict (HEC). High densities of elephants coupled with high rural human density along protected areas have created hot-spots of HEC. Members of the Horse Patrol Team come from the community, not only learning conservation action themselves but spreading the message at home as conservation ambassadors. Patrol teams also provide valuable medical treatment to injured wildlife, help fight wildfires, and destroy poacher camps.
Support of the Anti-Poaching Teams 9-1 & 9-2 of Northern Rangelands Trust Conservancies
The joint anti-poaching team are armed rangers that protect the wildlife and communities of Northern Rangelands Trust, the gold standard of community conservancy programs. The teams have led to significant declines in elephant poaching throughout NRT and reversed the trend which had been steadily increasing since 2010. The teams have also helped to improve the civil and government security response to the theft of livestock and highway banditry as the same people are frequently involved in all three activities.
Support to Wildlife Protection Efforts in the Lower Zambezi National Park
The Lower Zambezi ecosystem is home to one of Africa’s largest elephant populations however, the area is also home to a growing human population. As a result, valuable resources need to be shared and are competed for by humans and wildlife. This often leads to dangerous tension between communities and wildlife. In addition to the threat of poaching for ivory and bush meat, HEC is a constant threat to the safety of both the local elephant and human populations and to the food security of the disadvantaged human population. With the support of IEF, the first HEC Village Scout patrols began in January 2014 and have received an overwhelmingly positive reception, with harvests increasing and attitudes towards wildlife and their protection improving, all contributing to a significant decrease in poaching for the area. This year IEF continues its support of the patrols in Luangwa and broadening the coverage to a wider geographical region. Each team will receive rations, GPS devices, radio and communication systems, support from aerial patrols, emergency rapid response assistance, and continuing education and training.
Sustaining Local Support for Elephant Conservation Near Ruaha, Tanzania
Focusing on nurturing co-existence, this project addresses the need to create a community consensus for conservation. The Rungwa-Ruaha ecosystem contains the largest elephant population in East Africa, despite ongoing threats that have reduced its numbers by 77% since 2009. Poaching represents the most immediate threat to the population and is driven by international demand for ivory, but it is supported and sustained by local people, most of whom are poor farmers whose livelihoods are put at continuous risk by elephant crop-raiding behavior. Any effort aimed at protecting this critically important population in the midst of the current poaching crisis must have the support of local people, who share the landscape with elephants and are uniquely empowered to protect them. Residents of 22 villages bordering Ruaha National Park will receive a comprehensive conservation education program designed to reach, and meaningfully engage, nearly every person living in these communities. Classroom style instruction will be coupled with community film nights and parks visitation trips so that locals can learn about elephants and wildlife but also experience them in a non-adversarial environment.
Using Education and Awareness as a Tool to Promote Elephant Conservation and Reduce Negative Interactions in a Biodiversity Hotspot
Northern Bengal landscape of forests patches and tea estates is a critical transboundary movement route for elephants in north-eastern India. That landscape ensures connectivity of elephant populations between Bhutan, Nepal and Assam. However, its fragmented nature and limited community knowledge of elephant behavior and safety precautions has led to 50 human deaths and as many injuries per year for more than a decade due to human-elephant conflict. Long term research on elephant ecology and the nature of these incidents indicates that these encounters are mostly accidental and may therefore be reduced if proper precautions are observed. Through workshops and awareness sessions this project educates local tea-garden workers on safety precautions near elephants to ensure a reduction in human casualties. This project will directly benefit more than more than 100,000 people and also ensure sustainable conservation support for the endangered elephants outside protected areas.
Community Based Anti-Poaching Units (CBAPUs) for Asian Elephant Conservation
Before 1994, only 2 elephants were observed in Bardia National Park (BNP). Now, it is a major habitat for wild elephants with approximately 120 individuals in residence. Although Nepal has implemented elephant conservation efforts, recent evidence shows that elephants are still at risk due to poaching, retaliatory killing, illegal extraction of forest resources, and conflict with local people in buffer zones and corridors. Local communities are in need of outreach and education conservation messaging to learn how to deter wild elephants away from settlements. Successful protection of Nepal’s elephant population depends on cooperation and support of local youth. This project expands Community Based Anti-Poaching Units and outreach activities, antipoaching patrols, and human-elephant conflict mitigation training to assist in the protection of this recovering elephant population.
Reducing Threats to Elephants and Mitigating Human-Elephant Conflict in the Core Habitat of the Cardamom Mountain Landscape
Habitat loss and degradation threaten Asian elephant populations in Cambodia as natural habitat is converted to economic land concessions, both inside and adjacent to protected areas. The goal of this project is to secure the landscape and habitat for Asian elephants in the southern Cardamoms Mountains Landscape of Cambodia and to ensure conservation efforts of this core population are strategic, effective and adaptive. Additionally, this project supports communities and government in mitigating human-elephant conflict which will result in the strengthened ability to conserve the Asian elephant and its habitat in a strategic and coordinated manner.
Securing Elephant Corridors through Human-Elephant Co-existence in South West Bengal, India
In the human dominated landscape of West Bengal, the elephant population has increased by 69% in the last 6 years. By behavior, these elephants are subdivided into migratory, residential and Mayurjharna elephants which makes HEC mitigation challenging. This population is less than 20% of the state’s entire elephant population, but claims more than 50-55% of the damages. The elephants’ historic migratory routes are being destroyed due to timber poaching, conversion of forest lands to fields, and are often obstructed by illegal electric fences. This project studies the vulnerability of the inter-state migratory corridors and migratory passage within West Bengal with the goal of minimizing detrimental human-elephant interactions. It will develop awareness for elephants and their needs while building capacity to reduce HEC especially for corridor dependent villages. The ‘Anti-depredation Squad’ that secures the safe passage of elephants will be strengthened and expanded, and an improved habitat management plan focused on ecological restoration will be developed.
Strengthening Community Based Organizations for Elephant Conservation in Nepal
Conserving wild elephants in human dominated landscape without meaningful community participation is impossible. Located in the Khata and Karnali Forest Corridor of Bardia National Park in Nepal, this project aims to strengthen capacity of community based Rapid Response Teams (RRTs) and Community Based Anti-Poaching Units (CBAPUs) to minimize retaliatory/illegal killing of elephants and to minimize human and elephant fatalities caused by HEC. The RRT will be trained and equipped with uniforms, GPS units, and other patrol resources, and the existing CBAPUs will receive updated training and resources as needed. Both teams will be mobilized for forest patrols as well as educated on techniques to reduce potential human injuries, casualties, property damage and crop damage. Both patrol programs will coordinate with park authorities to maximize effectiveness and plan management of the elephant population.
Myanmar Emergency Elephant Response Units (EERUs)
Based on the successful Conservation Response Unit (CRU) model in Way Kambas National Park in Sumatra, the Emergency Elephant Response Units (EERUs) in Myanmar are working to prevent human-elephant conflict and protect wild elephant populations. The Myaing Hay Won (MHW) elephant camp serves as the hub for smaller satellite camps where unemployed timber elephants are now helping their wild cousins. Mahouts have the opportunity to learn skills and earn incomes while improving the care of the captive elephants and assisting in important conservation efforts. The elephants provide transportation during patrol activities, acting as a tool for gaining community interest and driving away crop raiding wild elephants. Since their implementation, the EERUs have been instrumental in catching and stopping poachers in the region, serving as one effective way to combat the increased international demand for elephant parts.
Community Based Protection of Sumatran Elephant Populations and Habitat in northern Sumatra through Conservation Response Units (CRU)
Approximately 550 elephants out of the 1700 elephants in Sumatra are located in Aceh, northern Sumatra in fragmented habitat. In order to protect this segment of the elephant population, there are 7 CRUs working in partnership with government conservation agencies. Utilizing captive elephants, their mahouts, and local community representatives for direct, successful field-based conservation interventions, these units support the conservation of wild elephants and protection of habitat, and create opportunities for local communities achieving positive outcomes for both elephants and people. Continuing the activities conducted by the CRU units is important for sustainable management, for mitigation of HEC, and to support local community awareness and involvement in forest protection. IEF is supporting their operation and continuing patrol activities as well as capacity building efforts.
Elephant Response Units (ERUs) (aka CRUs) in Way Kambas National Park in Sumatra
The communities surrounding Way Kambas National Park in south Sumatra suffer from a high level of human-elephant conflict. Subsistence farmers will often wake to find their entire fields destroyed by elephants who have ventured out of the protected habitats in search of food. The ERU teams in Tegal Yoso, Margahayu, Bungur, and Brajo Harjosari patrol hot spots and vital border areas to herd wild elephant populations away from crop fields. ERU teams are composed of forest rangers, mahouts, and elephants from the Indonesian government’s elephant centers who are trained for forest patrol. Together they prevent HEC, monitor wildlife activity, address and stop forest crime, and protect valuable habitat for endangered species including Asian elephants, Sumatran tigers, Sumatran rhino, tapir and pangolin. The elephant team members serve as ambassadors for their species during community outreach, inspiring the people to have a vested interest in elephant survival and conservation. CRU teams also work with affected communities to facilitate community watch programs, encouraging the community to take an active role in conservation and their own protection.
Elephant Response Units (ERUs) in Seblat in Sumatra
The Seblat forest covers 7,737 hectares in Bengkulu Province, west Sumatra and is designated as a Tourism Nature Park. Home to a number of protected and endangered species of flora and fauna, including tiger, elephant, tapir, this critical piece of habitat is an important reservoir for wildlife and a critical link between the forest area and nearby Kerinci Seblat National Park. Yet proximity to local oil palm plantations and settlements makes this habitat under constant pressure from encroachments, illegal clearing, wildlife crime, and more. IEF’s support of regular patrols and informal community outreach will continue to secure this valuable patch of habitat used by some of Sumatra’s most threatened but magnificent creatures.
Development of EEHV-specific Serological Assays
Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesvirus (EEHV) is one of the leading causes of death for Asian elephant calves in human care and in the wild. This project is working towards the development of an effective vaccine against EEHV. Dr. Paul Ling of the Baylor College of Medicine recently identified several important features of EEHV that are important targets for T cell-mediated immunity which is critical for control of herpesvirus infections and another step towards finding a workable vaccine that will benefit all elephants. Antibody responses are also expected to contribute to protective immunity against lethal EEHV infection. Currently, simple EEHV antibody tests with high specificity and sensitivity are not available. To address this need, this project will use a novel approach known as the Luciferase Immunoprecipitation System (LIPS).
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 has been responsible for the deaths of 20% of all Asian elephant calves born in human care in North America and Europe over the past 25 years. The same virus types have also been confirmed to be present in 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.
Musth Variation Among Asian Elephants (Elephas maximus): Applications for Conservation
Human–elephant conflict threatens Asian elephant survival and is prevalent in Sri Lanka. Male elephants are frequent crop-raiders, especially during musth. Despite its importance in reproduction, musth is poorly understood in this species. This project will bridge the gap between in-situ and ex-situ elephant populations by studying musth in Sri Lanka and in United States zoo Asian elephant populations—measuring behavioral, physiological, and acoustic responses—to provide context for in-situ and ex-situ management strategies. Observations of behavioral changes during musth will include social, feeding, and locomotor behaviors. Fecal samples will be collected to analyze testosterone, corticosterone, and T3 metabolites associated with musth. Acoustic recording will occur to identify unique musth vocalizations. These data will be integrated with social and environmental information to identify factors that result in musth plasticity. This critical information will help understand how male Asian elephants respond behaviorally and physiologically to changing environments and contribute to more effective in-situ conservation efforts and management of ex-situ elephant populations.
Noninvasive EEHV Detection in Semi-Captive and Free-Ranging Asian Elephants
The full impact of EEHV in wild elephant populations is largely unknown, as currently, EEHV detection on living elephants requires sampling of blood for viremia and trunk washes for shedding. This study will optimize two additional sample types – feces and discarded chewed plants – under field conditions for the detection of EEHV. The methods will be validated in Asian elephants at the Houston Zoo, and the optimized techniques will be applied to semicaptive and wild herds in Myanmar. The primary goal of this project is to create a standardized collection protocol that will enable epidemiologic studies on shedding patterns. This project seeks also to determine if increased glucocorticoid production, a stress indicator, is related to EEHV shedding, and to identify any human-induced, environmental, and demographic covariates that may contribute to EEHV hemorrhagic disease.