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Sumatra Project Update November 2002


Susan K. Mikota and Hank Hammatt

Elephant Care International is a direct action program.  It was launched in November 2000 when we resigned our positions in the U.S. and moved to Indonesia to provide veterinary care to captive Sumatran elephants. 


Please visit our website, (, which we created to facilitate the sharing of elephant data among professionals.  Our website offers three avenues for the responsible dissemination of information.  Our non-moderated Forum is open to all to view, post questions, and respond to matters of elephant interest.  Our Protocols, Manuals, and Proceedings section is open for submission of appropriate material.  Suggested postings for our Bulletin Board include projects seeking funding, announcements of funding applications, positions available, positions wanted, proposed legislation, medical images, and/or other images.  Our aim is to make available as much information as possible.  The site also includes an elephant bibliographic database with over 2000 citations, a conservation section, an image gallery, and information about our Sumatran Elephant Healthcare and Conservation Project.  An Elephant Formulary is under development and targeted to be on-line by March 2003.



Dear Friends and Colleagues,


This is our first newsletter since last December.  We apologize for the long hiatus.  The year 2001 was fraught with many unforeseen circumstances not the least of which was the devastation of our rainforest home in Belize by Hurricane Iris.  This unwelcome event together with a myriad of other problems kept us physically away from Indonesia for almost a year.


The clean up of our 30 acre home on Belize took over 3-months.  The loss of almost all of our large trees was tragic but luckily most of our palms (we have over 90 species) survived.  We salvaged the boards from our jungle house and re-constructed a smaller version.  The hurricane claimed all of the big palm leaves used for thatch so our new home has a tin roof.


Although we were away from Sumatra, we were not entirely away from elephants or the issues that impact them.  In January 2002 Susan attended a meeting of the National Tuberculosis working Group for Zoo and Wildlife Species held at USDA headquarters in Maryland.  The group met to update the Guidelines for the Control of Tuberculosis in Elephants.  It was a productive meeting and Susan volunteered to spearhead the discussed revisions.  Much of this work was carried out in Belize working on a laptop in a tent – recharging batteries once a week when we went to the village for supplies.  The humidity is pretty high in Belize and fear of crashing the computer prevailed.  The Guidelines went through 6 revisions and an untold number of email communications with the group members.  It was a worthwhile effort, however, as these new Guidelines are more complete and include revisions based on knowledge gained over the past few years.  The 2003 Guidelines for the Control of Tuberculosis in Elephants will be available on our website soon and can be accessed now on the USDA website: 


In May we had an opportunity to attend the International School for Elephant Management at the Riddles Elephant and Wildlife Sanctuary in Arkansas.  This was a tremendous learning experience for both of us.  Scott and Heidi Riddle are excellent teachers and they are very dedicated to elephants and elephant welfare.  The following month we were back at the sanctuary, this time for Susan to participate in the Ultrasound Course for Wildlife Veterinarians.  Thanks go to Dr. Dennis Schmitt for facilitating Susan’s participation.


Much of our time in 2001 was dedicated to the development of our Elephant Care website which is described in the text box above.  This is a living, growing website and we encourage your participation if you have information that should be shared.  There are many images of our Sumatra project and other aspects of elephants.


In June we traveled to Cambodia to attend a meeting of the Asian Elephant Specialist Group.  Susan and Heidi both received invitations to become members of this group.  The Asian Elephant Specialist Group is part of the Species Survival Commission (SSC) of the IUCN (The World Conservation Union).  The SSC is a global network of scientists, field biologists and other professionals committed to the conservation of biodiversity at the species level. 


After the SSC meeting, the International Elephant Foundation sponsored Heidi, Susan, and Hank to travel to Sumatra to attend the Workshop on Captive Sumatran Elephant Management in Palembang.  Susan gave a presentation to introduce our proposal for a Sumatran Elephant Resource Center.  The purpose of the Elephant Resource Center is to create an independent and internationally financed body that can work with the Indonesian government to address the on-going health care and husbandry needs of Sumatra’s captive elephants.  The Elephant Resource Center will be under the leadership of an Indonesian Coordinator (Senior Veterinary Officer) and an Indonesian Field Veterinarian.  Our role will be to provide guidance in developing the programs and to continue fund-raising for the project.


Pak Adi, the Director of Biodiversity Conservation for Indonesia, has approved The Resource Center.  We spent much of the summer fund-raising for this project, a time-consuming endeavor.  Funds are tentatively in place and we hope to initiate this project in January.  One of the initial tasks will be to establish a mechanism for communication between the Resource Center and all ECCs.  This will enable the Senior Veterinary Officer to provide guidance to Elephant Conservation Center (ECC) veterinarians in identifying and resolving clinical problems.  Resource Center staff will evaluate veterinary care and needs, identify management issues that impact elephant health, distribute supplies, and conduct training via periodic visits to each ECC.  Another major project will be to translate and distribute relevant information including a basic Elephant HealthCare Manual.  We hope to eventually establish a central pharmacy that will procure and distribute purchased and donated equipment and supplies.


While in Sumatra, we also visited the Seblat Elephant Conservation Center in Bengkulu Province,  wormed their 31 elephants, and presented information on a proposal for action by International Elephant Foundation.


During our time away from Sumatra we maintained contact with our Indonesian colleagues and continued financial support for the elephants at the Riau Elephant Conservation Center.  Since we have been back in Sumatra we have treated a number of sick elephants and together with Dr. Rini, the camp veterinarian, we conducted pre-shipment physicals on 10 elephants scheduled to go to Bali for use in tourism.  Another 10 will go later.  This could represent a good opportunity for both elephants and their pawangs (handlers), who will go with their elephants and remain in Bali with their elephants.  We intend to follow up on their status in the future.  The elephant centers in Sumatra, as we have reported earlier, are inadequately funded to properly meet the needs of the elephants. 


We spent a very informative week in the field with Riau KSDA (the forestry department) officials as they attempted to capture a bull elephant that had been raiding a palm oil plantation.  This first-hand experience provided us with a better understanding of the KSDA’s equipment and technical needs.  We feel we have gained the trust and respect of local officials and have already given them detailed suggestions on improving their system.


It is our stated position that we do not condone the capturing of wild elephants for captivity.  At the same time, we understand the complexity of the problem of human-elephant conflict and we acknowledge that elephants may need to be captured for translocation from conflict areas.  In June of this year, in North Sumatra, 17 wild elephants died suddenly in a village area and are suspected of having been poisoned by the villagers.


A Moratorium is currently in effect against capturing more elephants to place in the Elephant Conservation Centers.  The Centers are at or beyond capacity for the resources that are available to care for the captive elephants.  Riau province is currently a “hot-bed” of human-elephant conflict.  At a human-wildlife conflict meeting held in Pekanbaru, September 26-27, 2002, it was stated that between 1997-2002 there were 57 elephant (and 51 tiger) conflicts in Riau.  With the devastating rate of deforestation, it is likely that this problem will only worsen.  The formation of regional or local conflict mitigation teams has been discussed.  These teams would assess conflict situations and work locally to resolve the problem with alternative techniques.  Capture for translocation or placement in the centers would be a last resort.  It is unclear how quickly these teams will be formed or if the needed financial resources are even available.  It is therefore likely that captures will continue, especially in Riau.


It is our hope that conflict mitigation teams will be put into place as soon as possible and that suitable translocation sites can be identified.  In the interim we are committed to assisting our Indonesian colleagues to make the capture process safer and to reduce injuries and mortalities.


To this end we are organizing a 5-day intensive Sumatran Elephant Immobilization and Translocation Workshop for KSDA teams from 6 areas in Sumatra.  Pending funding, the Workshop will be held next March in Riau province.  International experts with experience in elephant immobilization and translocation will conduct the Workshop.  Lectures and hands-on practice and will be combined to present pertinent information on equipment, drugs, and translocation strategies used in Africa and India that may have application in Sumatra.  


We cannot guarantee that Sumatra can or will capture elephants only for translocation, and it is inevitable that many more elephants will end up in captivity.  Regardless, all of the elephants that must suffer the interruption of their lives at the hand of man deserve, at the very least, humane treatment and proper care.


WWF is continuing its efforts to secure the lowland forest of Tesso Nilo (a portion of which has now been declared a national park) as a “safe haven” for at least some of Sumatra’s wild elephants.  The identification of interim release sites, together with improved capture techniques, offers the hope that fewer elephants will be removed from the wild.  An update on WWF’s Tesso Nilo and other AREAS (Asian Rhino and Elephant Action Strategy) projects is attached.


Many thanks to Dr. Holly Reed and the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, Dr. Kay Backues and the Tulsa Zoo and Harry Peachey and the Colombus Zoo for contributing much-needed funds.


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