The first-ever International Elephant Healthcare Workshop by Wildlife SOS in collaboration with the UP Forest Department and Central Zoo Authority, Govt. of India brought a host of elephant experts from US and European organisations to Mathura.
The workshop was held from February 26th to March 3rd, 2023 at the Wildlife SOS Elephant Hospital campus. The sessions focused on building the capacity of field veterinarians and elephant care managers across India.
Elephants rescued from captive conditions carry the trauma of torture, cruelty and neglect. In India alone, there are 2,675 captive elephants, majority of which are under private ownership. Elephants were declared a National Heritage Animal in 2010 by the Government of India, yet, they still face multiple threats for survival such as loss of habitats, human-elephant conflict, and poaching. In India, captive elephants are often used for begging, entertainment, tourism, and religious purposes. They are kept tied for long hours, with their legs restrained by heavy metal chains on concrete floors. They remain undernourished, and such conditions result in them suffering from mental and physical distress. Moreover, elephants kept in such harsh conditions are susceptible to various medical ailments ranging from respiratory infections and gastrointestinal issues to grievous foot problems.
The five-day workshop therefore aimed to promote the use of technology in veterinary science for advanced treatment of elephants. The programme was attended by wildlife veterinarians who are working closely with elephants in wildlife sanctuaries, zoos, rescue centres and elephant camps across India. Each session provided a platform for them to share their knowledge, research, and expertise with other practising veterinarians. Over 15 participants who are serving veterinary officers from the states of Assam, West Bengal, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh along with international participants from Nepal attended the workshop.
The inaugural session of the training programme took place on February 26 in the presence of Guest of Honour, Dr. Parag Nigam, M.V. Sc., Scientist-G Head Department of Wildlife Health Management Wildlife Institute of India, Shri Adarsh Kumar, IFS, DFO Agra Forest Division, and Ms. Arushi Mishra, IFS, Deputy DFO Agra Forest Division, Dr. K.K. Sarma, Professor and Head, Dept. of Veterinary Surgery, Guwahati Veterinary College, Assam, Shri Kartick Satyanarayan, Co-founder and CEO of Wildlife SOS, Ms. Geeta Seshamani, Secretary and Co-founder of Wildlife SOS, wildlife artist Ms. Alpana Ahuja, Shri Baiju Raj M.V., Director, Conservation Projects – Wildlife SOS, Ms. Nikki Sharp of Wildlife SOS USA, Dr. S. Ilayaraja, Deputy Director – Veterinary Operations and Research at Wildlife SOS, to name a few.
Guest of Honour Dr. Parag Nigam spoke on the importance of this workshop and highlighted how workshops like these are key to strengthening the frontline capacity of veterinary doctors in the field.
Dr. Susan K. Mikota, DVM, Director of Veterinary Programs & Research Elephant Care International, USA, expressed her gratitude and delight for the opportunity to interact with the field experts of India. The was followed by a brief speech by Ms. Geeta Seshamani, Co-founder and Secretary – Wildlife SOS, who emphasised that the workshop sessions were specifically designed for veterinarians working with elephants in wildlife sanctuaries, zoos, rescue centres and elephant camps across India.
During the course of the workshop, an interactive session was held with elephant health and welfare experts Dr. Susan K. Mikota from Elephant Care International, USA, Dr. Willem Schafternaar from the Netherlands, Dr. Janine L. Brown from Smithsonian Conservation, Biology Institute, USA, Hollis Burbank-Hammarlund from Work for Wildlife International, and Wildlife SOS’ skilled veterinarians. Together, they shared decades of combined practical experience, technical support, mentorship, and instructions that could help veterinarians, mahouts, vet technicians, and other elephant care providers from all around the globe to better understand and care for elephants in ways that support their wellbeing.
The participants of the workshop were guided on a wide variety of hands-on skills, and gained pertinent knowledge on topics significant to elephant treatment such as the body conditioning score, arthritis, geriatric, foot issues, EEHV, and musth management of bull elephants.
In addition to the theoretical aspects of elephant management, the attending veterinarians also engaged in field demonstrations and exposure visits to the Elephant Conservation and Care Centre and the Elephant Hospital campus established by Wildlife SOS. The centres are home to over 30 elephants that have been rescued from begging on the streets, wedding processions, performing in circuses and giving rides to tourists.
The workshop concluded with a vibrant discussion between the international experts, the Wildlife SOS veterinarian team and the participants who had presented their own case studies. Active participation led the attending veterinarians to express their willingness to collaborate further towards the advancement of elephant conservation. Each attendee was awarded a certificate of participation. The successful workshop brought together global experts and veterinarians from across the country, and has further strengthened our continuing efforts towards elephant welfare.
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