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Elephant SSP/TAG Veterinary Advisor – RCP Action Items

May 2, 2003


The following is a list of priority issues that need development and/or funding.  These topics have been identified either through discussions with other veterinarians and elephant staff or as a result of questions that have arisen during consultation.


Individuals that have contributed or are interested in contributing are:

Dr. Dick Montali            Dr. Susan Mikota               Dr. Don Neiffer     

Dr. Laura Richman         Dr. Genny Dumonceaux      Dr. Jim Oosterhuis

Dr. Dennis Schmitt         Dr. Bill Lindsay                    Dr. Rae Gandolf

Dr. Denise Sofranko      Dr. Janet Payeur                  Dr. Dominic Travis

Dr. Scott Larsen            Dr. Joel Maslow                  John Lehnhardt

                                                                                 Dr. Ramiro Isaza

Priorities/Action items:


  • Establish an elephant serum bank – a centralized location for serum (and eventually tissues) should be developed to provide biomaterials for the development of diagnostic tests, retrospective disease assessments, epidemiologic studies.  A location (Disney’s Animal Kingdom) has been identified.  Assistance with funding for additional freezers will be needed.  Short-term goals:  develop computerized method for tracking samples, solicitation of SSP population for samples, funding for shipping.  Long-term goals:  acquire funding and develop system for collection and shipping of samples from free-ranging elephants for comparative studies.
  • SSP population medical summary – a method to regularly collect health data on the population is needed to produce an annual morbidity report and track disease trends.  Short-term goals:  create survey or other method to acquire data, identify interested individuals to collate and analyze data.  Long-term goals:  epidemiologic study of disease trends in population to identify contributing factors and create recommendations for prevention and treatment.
  • Coordinate research projects on (captive) elephants – the research advisor may already be addressing this issue.  A list of current and proposed research projects involving elephants should be created along with a means of coordinating and improving communication between researchers.  This is minimize duplication of efforts and improve efficient use of resources (such as funding, equipment, animals).
  • Disease research – this ties into the action item above.  Diseases affecting the captive elephant population that require additional research and funding include:
    • Tuberculosis
    • Endotheliotropic elephant herpesvirus
    • Encephalomyocardititis virus (EMC)
    • Salmonella
    • West nile virus
    • Osteoarthritis/degenerative joint disease

In addition to research on diagnostics and treatment, basic pharmacologic information on drug effects, dosages, and treatment frequency should be considered a high priority.  Antibiotics/antivirals, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, and  other commonly used drugs (such as the anti-tuberculosis drugs) should be studied to determine potential adverse effects, blood levels for effective treatment dosages, and frequency and route of administration.  Collaboration with universities, private industry, and drug manufacturers should be pursued.

  • Development of diagnostic tests validated for use in elephants – in conjunction with the items already listed, the development of elephant-specific reagents and techniques for diagnostic testing is a high priority.  Use of serum bank samples and recruitment of samples from the current population along with funding for the research is required.  High priority areas include improvement in TB diagnostics, reagents for EEHV serology, early detection of degenerative joint changes (using techniques such as thermography or enhanced imaging), and PCR for infectious disease identification.
  • Population serosurveys – in addition to the annual morbidity report, epidemiologic information should be collected to answer questions of disease susceptibility (ex. WNV), presence of asymptomatic carriers (ex. EEHV, Salmonella, TB), and response to vaccination (ex. tetanus) to develop scientifically based health recommendations and identify priorities for future research.  In order to achieve these goals, work needs to be done on the development of validated diagnostic methods for elephants, and funds acquired for population-wide testing.
  • Vaccination studies – although commercially available veterinary vaccines are used in elephants, no comprehensive studies have been conducted to determine safety, efficacy, and duration of immunity.  The increased attention to vaccine-related health issues should stimulate development of scientifically based recommendations for long-lived species, such as elephants. 
  • Creation of an elephant veterinary listserve – the current SSP listserve does not reach all the veterinarians that work with elephants.  Creation of a specific listserve to address elephant medical issues would facilitate communication and timely dissemination of elephant health information.
  • Establish teams of “experts” available for consultation on elephant health issues – it is recognized that there are many elephant professionals with extensive experience in elephant health issues.  Unfortunately, availability of the information is not readily available.  By creating teams of “experts” for designated areas (such as tusk/dental, foot, infectious disease issues), consultants would be more available for discussion of individual cases or problems.  Short-term goals:  identify elephant veterinary professionals with expertise and solicit participation.  Long-term goals:  create teams and methods of communication, make the elephant SSP/TAG community aware of the resources for consultation.


Prioritization and elaboration of these topics should be a joint effort of the Elephant SSP/TAG steering committee, Advisory committee, and members at large.

Submitted by Michele Miller, Veterinary Advisor


581705 White Oak Road
Yulee, FL 32097 USA

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