The 38th Annual Elephant Managers Association was hosted by the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and featured a premier gathering of leaders in the field of elephant management from across the world. The conference which began on the 2nd of October ran for three days, over the course of which members of the worldwide elephant management community participated in an exchange of knowledge, communication and networking with the aim of fostering development and growth in all programs that works with elephants and are dedicated to their conservation and care. With over 200 delegates in attendance for two jam-packed days of discussions and presentations, hands on practical demonstrations and elephant workshops, and an exposure visit to a nearby elephant facility, the conference provides the ideal space for building awareness and dissipating learning amongst elephant caregivers.

As the pioneers in captive elephant care and management in India, Wildlife SOS was duly represented at the esteemed conference by our very own Dr. Ilayaraja S. and Dr. Yaduraj Khadpekar. Both are active senior veterinarians at our rescue centres and have years of experiencing treating, caring for and working with rescued elephants at our rescue centre, as well as working as consultants and providing treatment to other elephants in different parts of the country.

Dr. Ilayaraja’s talk and presentation focused on the advanced technology being used to treat our rescued elephants, along with real life case studies of elephants from our rescue centre. Dr. Ilayaraja’s talk was illustrated by examples from the field where medical equipment like radiographs and thermal imaging cameras, and procedures like laser therapy and ultrasonography have greatly benefitted our elephants, and enhanced our understanding of the myriad of ailments that plague captive, abused elephants. In particular, he stressed upon the difficulty of using such equipment in developing countries like India, where the cost and lack of experienced technicians is often a hindrance. Despite the challenges, Wildlife SOS’ commitment to improving the physical and mental wellbeing of these elephants post-rescue motivates us to continue exploring new technological advancements in the field of veterinary medicine in pursuit of the best ways to treat and care for the wonderful pachyderms we rescue.

Dr. Yaduraj too touched upon an area of management and care of elephants that is practiced at our rescue centre but was relatively unheard of in India at the time we began using it – Protected Contact and Target Training. With heartening stories of our elephants target training sessions, and the victories we have had in building bonds with them using this humane and scientific method of management, Dr. Yaduraj also illustrated the importance of such a practice in a country like India which is often touted as the place of origin of the ‘human-elephant relationship’ but continues to practice outdated, cruel and often dangerous training methods with its working elephants. He went on to explain the drawbacks of target training in our specific situation, especially working with limited space and resources and having to blend in some elements of free contact as well – like when our elephants go on long walks with their keepers, or are scrubbed down during their showers. Dr. Yaduraj’s presentation illustrated beautifully the merging together of eastern and western practices of elephant care to create a beautifully effective method of managing the elephants in our care, given our unique situation.

Following the presentations of our veterinarians and the other speakers at the event, attendees had the unique experience of participating in practical demonstrations and enrichment building workshops at the host zoo – Columbus Zoo, followed by an enlightening trip to the nearby Cincinnati Zoo for a field visit.

The Wildlife SOS team came back feeling enriched with new information, ideas and motivation to continue the excellent work they are doing with our rescued elephants, and have hopefully inspired new innovation and ideas in everyone they met and spoke with as well!