AZA News Releases

North American Zoos Support Elephant Conservation

Silver Spring, MD –The International Elephant Foundation (IEF) and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) today announced support for 18 elephant conservation projects for 2011.

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 2011, IEF will provide more than $230,000 to support elephant conservation around the world, adding to the $1.8 million total invested in conserving elephants since its inception in 1998.

“The future for African and Asian elephants is in our hands,” said IEF Executive Director, Deborah Olson. “The elephants in North American zoos inspire support for the International Elephant Foundation.  When someone sees, or perhaps touches, an elephant and gains a greater understanding of the animal he or she has known only from picture books and video, they are then motivated to take action to save these species from extinction.”

IEF’s elephant conservation and education programs are ongoing both in managed elephant care facilities and in the wild. IEF is a non-profit organization established in 1998 by a group of zoos and other elephant care facilities to enhance and promote elephant conservation around the world.  IEF receives the majority of its funding from AZA-accredited zoos.

“Elephants in AZA-accredited zoos are wildlife ambassadors who educate the public and raise money to support vital IEF conservation efforts,” said AZA President and CEO, Jim Maddy. “AZA is proud to support the efforts of the International Elephant Foundation.”

“IEF is helping the Uganda Conservation Foundation to invest in proactive projects to strengthen elephant protection across Queen Elizabeth National Park”, explained Michael Keigwin, Founder, Trustee and Director of the Uganda Conservation Foundation. “Without IEF, UCF would be unable to support the Uganda Wildlife Authority in recovering critical elephant populations from poaching, communities from crop raiding and habitats from illegal activity.”

“The International Elephant Foundation partners with the Northern Rangelands Trust to support community-led conservation in 17 community conservancies covering a vast 12,000 square kilometers in northern Kenya,” said Ian Craig, Executive Director for the Northern Rangelands Trust, “In the last decade, the International Elephant Foundation has provided more than $300,000 for African elephant conservation activities in Kenya.”

The following elephant conservation projects will receive support from IEF in 2011:


Sumatra Elephant Conservation Response Units (CRU), Indonesia

If the elephants living on the Indonesian island of Sumatra are to be saved for the future, conservation programs that promote elephants and people co-existing peacefully are necessary.  As a long-time supporter of elephant conservation in Sumatra, IEF has invested $500,000 since 2000 to support Conservation Response Units (CRU), providing once neglected captive elephants with high quality care and an active lifestyle, and providing the mahouts (elephant caretakers) with training and salary.  The CRU elephant/mahout teams are employed to carry out forest patrols and wildlife monitoring, as well as provide educational workshops about elephants in neighboring communities. Creating this positive link between people and elephants, and ensuring that these elephants are seen as an important national resource and doing positive deeds, is helping local communities and decision-makers recognize the value of protecting the elephants of Sumatra.

ElefantAsia’s Breeding Sanctuary and Hospital Program, Laos

With domesticated elephant numbers plummeting due to low reproduction rates, it is vital that cows are given the optimum opportunity to breed. ElefantAsia will be opening the first breeding sanctuary, elephant hospital and laboratory on the grounds of the Lao Elephant Sanctuary. This project will provide elephant owners incentives to breed their elephants raising the birth rate of endangered Asian elephants in Laos, while offering local and international visitors a new educational tourism experience via observation towers where they can view cows interacting with their calves. ElefantAsia’s elephant hospital and laboratory will provide Laos with a much-needed center for elephant disease diagnosis, pathology and veterinary care.

Evaluation of Elephant Herpesvirus Shedding Among In Situ Asian Elephants

Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesvirus (EEHV) has been associated with rapidly progressing, fatal hemorrhagic disease in Asian elephants in human care and in the wild. Using a rapid and sensitive test based on real-time PCR, it has been determined that captive Asian elephants from several herds frequently shed EEHV1 in trunk secretions, and these secretions are a likely mode of viral transmission between animals. However, important questions remain regarding the frequency of persistent EEHV1 infection within wild Asian elephant populations and when EEHV1 infection entered Asian elephant populations. 

The objectives of this project are to determine whether wild Asian elephants show evidence of persistent EEHV1 infection and to perform detailed DNA sequence analysis to characterize the evolutionary history of the viruses being shed by wild elephants. Data generated from this project will be invaluable in our understanding of the prevalence and history of EEHV1 infection in Asian elephants.

Promoting Human-Elephant Coexistence in Karnataka, Southern India through Survey, Education and Awareness Programs

In 2009, a series of training and awareness programs in human-elephant conflict areas of Karnataka were held in order to promote human-elephant coexistence. A successful education module was developed by Zoo Outreach Organization for both literate and illiterate audiences of age groups from school going children to adults. This project will assess the impact of the training and awareness program that took place in 2009 and to evaluate any attitude and behavioral changes towards problem elephants. This project will also use the Zoo Outreach Organization’s education module in the districts of Hassan and Coorg which are additional target areas to promote human-elephant coexistence. 

Publication of the Gajah, the Journal of the Asian Elephant Specialist Group

Gajah is the Journal of the IUCN/Asian Elephant Specialist Group.  With long-term support from IEF, Gajah shares best practices and builds capacity amongst conservationists and researchers and to those interested in the care and conservation of the Asian elephant, both wild and those in human care.


Joint Conservancy Anti-Poaching Team with the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT), Kenya

Since the Northern Rangeland Trust’s (NRT) inception in 2004, poaching and other security-related incidents in northern Kenya have decreased largely because of the development of NRT and its 17 community conservancies. However, poaching still remains a threat in this region, due to the large number of illegal firearms in the hands of local people, and relative proximity to unstable countries on the northern and eastern borders of Kenya.  IEF and NRT, with support from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, have partnered to develop a Joint Conservancy Anti-Poaching Team that is greatly enhancing the wildlife protection and monitoring in the region.  This team, first and foremost, is protecting elephants by deterring incidents of poaching from occurring and, when unfortunate incidents of poaching do arise within NRT communities, by providing a dedicated team of skilled anti-poaching officers immediately available to respond to and resolve these issues. In 2011, IEF signed a partnership agreement with NRT, thus making a strong commitment to support this critical project for the next 3 years.

Disseminating Lessons Learned and Building Capacity through Pachyderm

Pachyderm, the journal of the African Elephant, African Rhino and Asian Rhino Specialist Groups of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission, provides a vital venue for the publication of research into the status and conservation of the African elephant. The Chair Report, in addition to reports from the CITES Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants and Elephant Trade Information System monitoring programs, provides an international overview into current policy issues and conservation discussions surrounding elephants. Pachyderm is an essential vehicle for publishing manuscripts by range state researchers, thereby assisting in developing capacity at the scientific and managerial level within the African elephant range.

Elephants, Crops and People and the Waterways Project, Uganda Conservation Foundation (UCF)

This multi-year partnership between IEF and Uganda Conservation Foundation (UCF) has resulted in the development of a system of fencing and trenches that keep elephants out of fields and villages while protecting human lives and allowing children to attend school without a fear of elephants.  This project has also constructed and equipped multiple boat patrol stations on the shores of Lake George in Queen Elizabeth National Park.  These boat patrols are already having a significant impact on the ability to protect wildlife and prevent elephant and hippopotamus poaching, illegal fishing.

Park Protection and Training Program in Kafue National Park, Zambia

Game Rangers International (GRI) is committed to working in close cooperation with the Zambian Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) and the local Community Resources Boards to protect the territories of more than 950 wild elephants.  However, recent evidence has shown that elephant populations in south Kafue are being attacked by poachers posing as fishermen and using Lake Itezhi-Tezhi to access the Park. Currently, ZAWA does not have the means to respond to this threat.  Therefore, GRI is determined to expand the Park Protection & Training Program to include Water Patrols, Surveillance and Monitoring of Lake Itezhi-Tezhi, providing increased security the wildlife.   To achieve this mission, GRI will use boats to patrol the lake and will provide specific training to ZAWA officers and Village Scouts.

Program "My Elephant Neighbor"

Exposing African children to their elephant neighbors in a positive manner is an effective way to involve them and their families in elephant conservation. Since the inception of the “My Elephant Neighbor” program, over 2,500 children and 300 teachers have participated in this outreach program with ongoing support from IEF. The program offers a unique opportunity to see the local elephants and learn about them in the field. This program benefits elephant conservation as both children and their parents are sensitized to the issues of neighboring elephant populations.

Save The Elephants

IEF funding has supported the core operation of Iain Douglas-Hamilton’s Save The Elephants (STE) conservation organization that operates projects throughout Africa since 2007. STE does basic research on elephant behavior and ecology and has pioneered GPS radio tracking with elephants, assists wildlife departments in their fight against ivory traders and poachers using aerial surveillance and radio-tracking, involves local people in research and education to develop a conservation ethic based on local knowledge and elephant needs, and disseminates information through films and publications.

Supporting Village Scout Anti-poaching Work in South Luangwa, Zambia

This project provides training to scouts and the community to protect and conserve elephants in their region. Monitoring data suggests that elephant poaching activities in the South Luangwa National Park and surrounding game management areas continue to increase, despite improvements in law enforcement. The direct and immediate benefits of this anti-poaching work will be a decrease in elephant mortalities from poaching, a reduction in the number of elephants controlled for crop raiding and also a reduction in the number of elephant fatalities from snare and gunshot wounds.

Sustaining Protection for Nigeria’s Largest Elephant Population in Yankari Game Reserve, Nigeria.

Yankari contains the largest surviving population of elephants in Nigeria, which is also one of the largest in West Africa. Estimated at about 350 individuals, this is perhaps the only viable elephant population remaining in the country. From January to July 2010 with IEF support, there were 1,606 patrol hours covering a distance of more than 8,800km with 69 arrests made. IEF will be continuing its support of this project for another year.  The project’s goal in 2011 is to improve the long-term conservation of elephants in Yankari Game Reserve by 1) providing support for regular, effective anti-poaching patrols, and 2) further strengthening the existing ranger-based CyberTracker monitoring system.


Determining Pharmacokinetic Characteristics of the Antiviral Drug Ganciclovir in Asian Elephants

Elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV) is a significant cause of mortality in young Asian elephants, contributing to at least 65% of juvenile deaths in the captive population. Two EEHV-infected calves have been treated with ganciclovir, an antiviral drug which has been successfully used in human medicine, and both calves survived. Appropriate dosages and dosing intervals to maintain therapeutic blood levels of ganciclovir in elephants needs to be established in order to guarantee effective treatment and to minimize drug-associated side effects. This pharmacokinetic study will measure levels of ganciclovir in the plasma of Asian elephants following intravenous administration. Confirmation that therapeutic blood levels of ganciclovir are achieved after treatment and establishment of an appropriate treatment regimen will provide a scientifically based protocol for others to follow when treating EEHV-infected elephant calves with this promising antiviral drug.

Elephant Endothelial Cells: A System to Isolate Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesvirus

Elephant endotheliotropic herpesviruses (EEHVs) are a leading cause of neonatal/juvenile deaths in Asian elephants. To date, scientists have identified several herpesviruses but have not yet isolated them from infected tissues of sick animals. It is believed that the virus present in secretions, blood, or tissues of infected animals can be isolated in the lab in an elephant endothelial-cell culture. Once the virus is isolated, significant understanding of the biology of the virus and the pathophysiology of the disease will be possible. This would constitute a major advance for improving the health and management of African and Asian Elephants, and greatly contribute to their conservation worldwide.

Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesvirus (EEHV) Research

IEF has been a primary funder of the National Herpesvirus laboratory at the Smithsonian National Zoo since 2008 and funds multiple studies aimed at identifying the causes of EEHV in an effort to prevent future EEHV fatalities. Studies include identifying the status of EEHV in individual elephants and their potential for further transmission, and identify predisposing factors that make specific elephants more susceptible to the disease and identifying effective treatments.  EEHV is a serious concern for both wild and managed elephant populations. 

GnRH Vaccination as a Potential Way to Control Fertility and Androgen Driven Behavior in African and Asian Elephant Bulls

Social behavior of free-ranging adult elephant bulls differs from that of females. A solitary life, increased aggression and periods of musth characterize the mature bulls’ behavior. In their range countries, free ranging musth bulls damage settlements and crops.  Animal welfare issues, as well as conflicts between wild bulls and humans underline the urgent need of solutions. Recently, trials of reversible chemical castration of elephant bulls with the help of a GnRH (Gonadotropin-releasing Hormone) vaccine have been undertaken and appear promising as a new simple and cost-effective contraception method.  However, further studies are necessary to show the effectiveness and safety of this vaccine. This study will involve four vaccinations within one year and regular monitoring of the antibody titer, of physiological and behavioral changes, of the reproductive tract (through ultrasound), of the semen quality and hormonal changes.

IEF Elephant Research Symposium

Every year IEF facilitates an International Elephant Conservation and Research Symposium.  In 2011, this gathering of elephant conservationists and researchers from around the world will be convened in Rotterdam, The Netherlands in October. This symposium offers elephant experts the unique opportunity to learn from others and share information in order to further conservation efforts of elephants in the wild. 

As a non-profit organization dedicated to elephant welfare, IEF solicits donations to fund worthy elephant conservation and research projects worldwide. To learn more about IEF or to contribute to elephant conservation efforts, please visit IEF’s website at

About AZA

Founded in 1924, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the areas of conservation, education, science, and recreation. Look for the AZA logo whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium as your assurance that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you, and a better future for all living things. The AZA is a leader in global wildlife conservation, and your link to helping animals in their native habitats.

For additional information about elephants in zoos and where you can connect with an elephant up close, please click here.

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