Elephant Protocols, Manuals, and Proceedings

Practical Elephant Management:
A Handbook for Mahouts

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Elephant Welfare Association
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SECTION II

HEALTH

Signs of Health
Common Ailments
Diseases in Captive Elephants
Colic
Impaction
Sick and Injured Elephants: Care and Cure
Health Care of Departmental Elephants

SIGNS OF HEALTH

Dr. Jacob V. Cheeran

A healthy elephant should be disease free and conduct its daily activities without indications of discomfort or abnormality. Regular monitoring of certain physical signs and behaviour will indicate an elephant's health condition. A mahout must regularly monitor his elephant's health, based on these signs. He must immediately notify his employer or doctor on observing signs of ill health or discomfort. Discussed below are points that will help monitor the elephant's health on a daily basis.

  1. Elephants require plenty of water for their metabolic activities. It is estimated that on an average, they drink 200-255 litres of water per day. If the elephant does not drink sufficient water, it will become dehydrated, leading to several other ailments. In order to make sure that his elephant is drinking sufficient water, the mahout must check its trunk. The tip of the trunk should be moist with saliva. If the trunk is dry or appears cracked, it is obvious that the elephant requires more water.
  2. Wounds, rashes and swellings should be subjected to immediate medical attention.
  3. The insides of the mouth (mucous membrane), must be rosy pink in colour. The colour indicates sufficient quantity and good quality of blood in circulation. If the colour is pale, the elephant may be anaemic. In humans and other animals, the eye is examined for anaemia. Elephants are sensitive to an eye examination. i.e., they shut their eyes, tightly. Hence this method cannot be used for elephants.
  4. The eyes should be moist all the time. This is a peculiarity of elephants.
  5. Whitish layers appearing either on the cornea or the lens are not healthy signs. It could be an indication of cataract, corneal damage, or old age.
  6. Several veins are visible on the ears. Scratches or bruises on this region must be treated immediately.
  7. Elephants are susceptible to sinus infections. Discharge may run through the trunk during sinus infection.
  8. The body temperature is checked at the briskette region. If the region feels cool to the touch, it indicates ill health.
  9. Elephants develop swellings on their body due to injuries or abrasions. The swellings should be subjected to immediate medical attention.
  10. The nails have to be trimmed along the sides. Mahouts should not scrub nails with rough objects like stones, because the protective waxy coating will be lost and nails will crack. Sweat glands are located on the feet, above the nails. Therefore, it is normal to see moisture around these areas. Absence of moisture indicates abnormality.
  11. The elephant's skin is an important indicator of water balance in the body. Wrinkles and folds on the elephant's skin prevent loss of water by evaporation from within, and maintain normal body temperature. If the skin feels resilient or elastic to the touch, when pinched, it can be assumed that the elephant is receiving adequate water. If the skin feels dry and non-resilient, it must be understood that the elephant is not drinking enough water.
  12. The pulse is taken below the chin. This can be felt by the fingers where an artery crosses the bone.
  13. Foot diseases are common among captive elephants. Causes and symptoms are discussed elsewhere in the text.
  14. Multiple hairs are seen arising from one pore on the head, sometimes. It is noticed that, during illness these hairs come off easily.
  15. The quality and quantity of dung and urine are indicators of health.
  16. A mahout must regularly monitor his elephant's diet and drinking pattern, on a daily basis.

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COMMON AILMENTS

Dr. Jacob V. Cheeran

A healthy elephant preoccupies itself with some activity, such as swinging tail, and trunk, feeding on palm leaves, playing with twigs, throwing mud on its back etc. Listed below are some common ailments that affect the elephants.

  1. Impaction : Constipation leading to impaction, is the most common and serious condition seen in captive elephants in Kerala. Expert veterinary aid, which consists of fluids and pariental feeding, are important.
  2. Worm infestation : Very common both in captive and wild conditions. Periodical deworming is a must in captivity.
  3. Foot rot : Common during monsoons. Tethering site should be clean and should have provision for drainage.
  4. Surra : A protozoan disease. A debilitating condition which can effectively be treated.
  5. Lice : Seen at ear folds, inner aspects of limbs and tail switch. Easily treated with insecticides.
  6. Tuberculosis : Often contracted from the affected mahout. Difficult to institute protracted treatment.
  7. Tetanus : Often results in death caused by punctured and contaminated injuries. Patient will present a very pathetic sight.
  8. Rabies : Commonly caused by dog bite. Post bite vaccination is effective.
  9. Injuries to the eye : Often caused by improper use of the stick by the mahout, causing permanent damage or blindness.

10.  Arthritis : Common in old animals. Total cure is difficult. Palliative measures are possible.

Often diseases like Anthrax, Pasteurellosis, Foot and Mouth disease and Salmonellosis have been reported to occur.

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DISEASE DIAGNOSIS IN CAPTIVE ELEPHANTS

Dr. Mohammed Shafi

Elephants are susceptible to several kinds of diseases. Most of them weaken the animal to a large extent and others prove fatal. Each of these show specific symptoms. The symptoms have to be recognised at an early stage and the appropriate treatment provided.

Impaction and colic:

Symptoms:

  • Lack of appetite. Animal does not eat fodder
  • Body posture suggests discomfort
  • Lays down and gets up frequently
  • Eyes remain closed most of the time
  • Brisket feels cool to the touch.
  • Dung may be absent, fewer in numbers or smaller in size
  • Stomach may look bloated
  • Dull appearance and lack of interest in drinking water

To confirm impaction or colic, the doctor may apply oil on his hands, for lubrication and insert into the anus. If dung is not present, then it can be assumed that the elephant is suffering from impaction.

The elephant must be given complete rest during this period. It should not be allowed to haul timber or attend festival parades. Increased physical activity causes the intestine to swell and eliminate a lot of fluid through the anus. This loss of fluid makes the elephant weaker and the impacted condition prevails for a longer period. Therefore it is proper to treat the elephant at the same place instead of moving it to another convenient spot. Doctor should provide medicines to ease the pain, dilate the alimentary canal and also to stimulate expulsion of dung. Impaction and colic have been discussed as separate chapters, elsewhere in this book.

Parasitic afflictions:

Symptoms:

  • The palate and insides of the trunk appear paler in colour. This is due to lack of sufficient good quality blood or blood supply, in the body.
  • Frequent diahorea
  • Live or dead worms may be visible in the dung. Round worms are 1-1/2 inches in length. Tapeworms are shed as segments and the segments appear as pale , flat, pieces. (locally, the segments are compared to the pulp or inner portion of the jack fruit). Amphistomes appear as red beads in the dung.
  • Swellings may be visible on the lower jaw and abdomen.
  • Lack of appetite and occasional stomach pains

The dung may be inspected in a laboratory, to look for eggs or cysts of the parasite. Based on the shape and size of the eggs, the type can be determined. Specific medication must be provided by an experienced physician, for treating the condition.

Surra:

Symptoms:

  • Swellings on the trunk, behind ears, and the brisket,
  • Slower pace during timber hauling

The blood samples of infected elephants will reveal presence of microbes. The blood also appears very diluted, and less viscous. Immediate medical aid must be provided to save the elephant.

Tetanus :

Symptoms:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Inability to move jaws freely or open the mouth
  • The elephant may draw water in its trunk, but will be unable to squirt it into its mouth
  • The limbs lose their mobility. The elephant is unable to move or fold its limbs.
  • They may have occasional spasms
  • Due to weakness the elephant is unable to stand upright and falls onto the ground

There is no treatment for this condition. The condition is bought about due to untreated wounds, caused by sharp objects. The only way to save the elephant is to provide a tetanus toxoid injection, as soon as an injury is observed.

Foot rot:

Symptoms:

  • The elephant rubs its feet together or rubs it against a tree or hard surface.
  • Wounds are visible around the feet. The skin appears rough and coarse around these wounds.
  • Pus-filled sores or swellings can be seen between the nails. These swellings enlarge and erupt to form wounds.
  • Infected foot or feet, can be soaked in medicated water for a while, before the application of other medicines. This provides a relief to the elephant. The tethering area must be maintained neatly.

Arthritis and Paralysis:

Symptoms:

·         Swellings around the knee portion of the foreleg. The swellings are painful and the elephant drags its legs while walking. The swelling may moves upwards onto the brisket region.

The condition is brought about due to uncontrolled use of restraining devices, especially the long pole. A combination of Allopathic and Ayurvedic provide the most effective treatment.

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COLIC

A.K. Ponnappan

Colic is a condition of abdominal disorder, commonly seen in elephants. It occurs due to irregularities in diet and water intake.

Symptoms of colic:

  • Reduced water intake and loss of appetite
  • Tendency to eat mud, chewing bark from trees
  • Drowsy appearance and motionless for a long time
  • Mucoid coating absent on the dung. It appears rough and dry, from eating dry fodder. Dry fodder does not contain water essential for metabolic activities.
  • Stomach rumbles, probably due to improper digestion and gas formation
  • Size of the dung is smaller than usual. It continues to get smaller, as the condition becomes chronic.
  • Swellings may be seen on the feet, brisket and the stretch areas of the body.
  • The trunk is twisted often, as if to expel mucous or gas. This is accompanied by coughs.

Local remedies:

  1. On observing initial signs of colic, mahout must coax the elephant to drink more water. This is to prevent dehydration. Salt water is ideal. A few gms of fried, crystalline salt may be added to a bucket of lukewarm water. An adult elephant may be given water containing 150 gms of salt. The quantity must vary according to the elephant’s size. Excessive salt is also dangerous.
  2. Lemon grass oil (Cymbopogan flexuvosus) is a natural medicine, sought by elephants themselves in the wild, as well as in captivity. A loaf of bread soaked in 30 ml of oil, can be fed to the elephant.
  3. Branches and leaves of murukku, (Erythrina indica) can be provided.
  4. A herbal mixture can be prepared. The ingredients are- Wild ginger, small, green chillies, crystalline salt, garlic and fried mustard seeds. They are ground into a paste and placed inside the elephant’s ration or concentrate feed. This paste induces the elephant to drink water and further facilitating dung expulsion. Mud consumed during early stages, is also expelled along with the dung.
  5. A mixture of hot ash and human urine, can be used for a hot compress, to treat swellings during colic.
  6. Asafoetida relieves discomfort caused by accumulation of gases, in the stomach. 75-100 gms can be fed along with concentrates ie. rice, only during the early stages of colic. It should not be administered during chronic stage, as it absorbs water from the body. Asafoetida can be administered after novu also. 220 gms of fried and powdered asafoetida, can be mixed with concentrates on a weekly basis.
  7. Wild ginger is also a powerful medicine for stomach ailments.

Care during colic:

Colic if ignored, will lead to a chronic condition called black colic, and invariably the elephant would die. During colic, elephants must be given complete rest. The above mentioned remedies must be practised only under the guidance of an experienced mahout. If the condition continues to persist, mahouts must seek veterinary assistance.

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IMPACTION

Avanapparambu Maheshwaran Namboothiri

Impaction is a commonly occurring ailment in captive elephants of Kerala. Impaction is a condition when the undigested food materials cause a blockage in the intestine. The condition is very painful and uncomfortable to the elephant. If not detected and treated at the early stages, impaction will lead to the elephant's death.

Causes of Impaction

  • Impaction is caused when undigested food materials are retained in the intestine. Elephants sometimes swallow food without chewing, especially if they have been starving for a while. Thus the fibrous part of the fodder may remain undigested, in the stomach.
  • Excessive consumption of grains or seeds can also cause impaction. Undigested grains are likely to swell within the intestine, causing a blockage.
  • Elephants in Kerala enjoy a period of treatment or rejuvenation (Sukha Chikitsa) every year. During this period they are given various kinds of nutritious food and medicines (herbal). After this treatment period, elephants go back to their normal diet. A sudden change in diet also can cause impaction.
  • Excessive mud eating will also lead to impaction.

Remedies:

Impaction is a serious condition and requires immediate medical attention. Until the doctor's arrival, mahouts may employ some safe first aid to alleviate the condition.

Hot compresses may be applied on the flanks and abdomen. This method may not work in case of impaction due to indigestion. A cloth compress of sand or fried sawdust (to provide dry heat) can be used, for all kinds of stomach ailment. It is a very safe method and relieves pain. If the elephant seems to recover after a few days, the mahouts may provide warm drinking water. They may also give a warm water scrub. During impaction, cold water must be avoided for drinking or washing. In the absence of a heating, water cab be warmed under sunlight.

Massaging or fomentation requires previous practice. If not done correctly, it can cause serious complications. It is therefore advisable for inexperienced mahouts to learn the correct method of massage and fomentation from experienced mahouts or physicians.

Impaction may prove fatal in the absence of proper medical attention or for want of earlier diagnosis. It requires tremendous patience and dedication from the mahout’s side to successfully save an impacted elephant.

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SICK AND INJURED ELEPHANTS : CARE AND CURE

Parbati Baruah

1. INTRODUCTION

A working elephant may be exposed to many kinds of injuries and ailments. With the development of veterinary science, treatment of sick and injured elephants is not a problem. But in remote areas, experienced veterinary doctors and required medicines are not easily available and the mahout may be required to provide first aid or primary treatment before the services of a veterinarian are available. There are some traditional herbal-based medicines in different regions of India, which provide effective treatment against some common ailments of elephants. In the wild , elephants are known to use different types of herbs, climbers, leaves etc to treat themselves in case of sickness. Use of herbal medicines should, therefore be preferred to other kinds of medicines as far as possible.

2. PREVENTIVE MEASURES

The saying that "PREVENTION IS BETTER THAN CURE " applies to elephants in the same way as to human beings. Captive elephants are subject to injury or sickness more due to negligence of their keepers than to other reasons. The other thing that needs to be remembered is that the elephant is a very costly animal and one cannot afford to lose it permanently or even temporarily due to injuries or sickness. Hence elephants should be kept or used with great care. Some important precautions to be observed are discussed below.

2.1 HYGIENE

Experience shows that some of the common ailments of captive elephants relating to eye, feet and skin are because of filthy and unhygienic conditions of the pilkhana (stable). Therefore, the pilkhana must be kept clean and well drained. All the leftover fodder and dung should be removed to a distance and burnt periodically. The urine-drenched floor should be covered with sand and periodically treated with a disinfectant. The feet of the elephant may be washed with a solution of potassium permanganate at least once a week to guard against fungal attack. Elephants should be given regular bath and their toe-nails and tusks (if any) should be trimmed periodically. Cattle and other livestock should be kept away from the pilkhana. As a rule, captive elephants should not be made to share their grazing ground and source of drinking water with other livestock to avoid infection and contagious diseases.

2.2 FEEDING

An ill fed elephant is quite prone to diseases. Hence the elephant should be fed properly and timely. The food of the elephant should not be monotonous and a variety should be maintained to the extent possible. Extra diet (fodder and ration) should be provided to the elephants engaged in logging operation or working overtime. It is believed that regular feeding of the elephant with banyan tree leaves and branches, Ficus species, in dry months may cause eye problems. Similarly, an elephant having problem of digestion or worms in the intestine or which has recently taken earth, should also be kept off water for at least three days in such cases. In case of elephant calves which have recently started grazing, a careful watch should be maintained so that they do not take any poisonous plant.

2.3 WORKING OF ELEPHANTS

Working elephants are usually observed to suffer from back sores or spinal injuries. The reason is either overloading or uneven loading on either sides of the elephant back. An elephant may also get back-injuries is its gadela (mattress) is not of proper specification or not suitably tied. An elephant may also get injuries on its legs if the knot of the rope with which the legs are tied is not correct or its hobbles are not of proper size or if some link of its chain is pointed and sharp. Gear of the logging elephant needs careful designing to avoid injuries.

Captive elephants should not be over worked and should be given proper rest. They should not be exposed for long duration to direct sun, chilly winds, rains and hailstorms. They should not be made to march over rocky areas, marshy land or quicksand. After a long march or heavy spell of duty, an elephant should not be immediately taken for bath or provided with drinking water.

2.4 PROTECTION AGAINST WILD ELEPHANTS

Sometimes wild elephant visit a pilkhana and attack captive elephant , who being tied, cannot protectthemselves. Mahouts should be alert and must chase away wild elephant using crackers. Elephant proof trench or electric fencing around pilkhana may also be useful.

2.5 PROPHYLACTIC ACTION

Periodic deworming of elephants under the care of a veterinarian is very important. It is also necessary to inoculate the elephants agin such contagious cattle-borne diseases as foot and mouth disease (FMD), anthrax, haemorrhagic septicaemia (HS) etc. a routine parasitological examination of elephant dung may help in timely detection of many diseases.

2.6 USE OF INTOXICANTS:

It is a common habit (rather a vice) among most of the mahouts to use opium or any other intoxicant to " treat" a sick elephant. Such intoxicants may suppress the symptoms of sickness in the elephant or may even cure the elephant for time-being, but these are harmful to the elephant in the long run. These intoxicants, besides addicting the animal, also weaken the elephant and make it susceptible to many diseases. Therefore, use of intoxicants for treating the elephants should be strictly prohibited.

3. SYMPTOMS OF AN AILING ELEPHANT

Like an infant an elephant also cannot express its pain and problems through speech. But like a good mother who can feel any thing going wrong with her baby, the mahout should be able to detect any unusual behaviour in his elephant. a mahout should observe his elephant very carefully every now and then and should be able to tell what is normal for it and what is not. Reasons for any abnormal behaviour must be investigated and immediately reported to the superior authorities and the veterinary doctor. Some useful tips for the mahout are given below.

3.1 The mahout must often visit the pilkhana in the early hours of the morning to see if his elephant is lying down to sleep. Sleeplessness for many days at a stretch may be the signs of ailment.

3.2 The mahout must keep a watch over the feeding of his elephant. Lesser than the usual intake of food should be viewed with concern.

3.3 He should examine the dung of the elephant carefully. Presence of worms, earth or unusually large quantity of undigested food in the dung is indicative of ill health.

3.4 Eating of earth by the elephant also suggest presence of worms in its stomach or digestive problems or any other ailment.

3.5 a healthy elephant is always active and apparently restless, constantly moving its trunk, tail and legs, flapping its ears, always chewing something. Its eyes are also bright. a dull looking inactive elephant, suggests sickness.

3.6 The gait of the elephant should also be observed carefully. An uneven movement or dragging of feet may be on account of injury, muscular pain, presence of thorn, foot rot etc.

3.7 Appearance of ribs on the body or forehead of elephant is a definite indication of weakness.

3.8 The bathing time of the elephant is also the proper time for physical examination of the elephant. All parts of the elephant’s body should be examined carefully to detect injuries, thorns, sores, boils or signs of rot. Different parts of the elephant should be pressed with hand and the response of the elephant should be noted to see whether it feels any pain.

3.9 Periodic measurements of weight and girth of the elephant also helps in monitoring its health, for example, loss of weight in any elephant shows bad health. Unusual increase in the girth of an adult cow elephant within a short span of time may be on account of its pregnancy. a regular record of the history of musth in a a bull elephant may help in determining whether or not the unusual behaviour of the elephant is indicative of the approaching bout of musth.

4. TREATMENT OF COMMON INJURIES AND AILMENTS

Given below are some local cures for common injuries and ailments of elephants as practises in N.E. India. Some of the cures may not look sophisticated or even scientific, but they are time tested and the ingredients involved are within the reach of a mahout.

4.1 EYE TROUBLES - Constant watering from the eyes of the elephant may be due to infection, injury to the eye ball, cataract, excessive internal body heat. Eyes of the animal may be washed 3-4 times daily with a weak solution of alum. Water soaked overnight with tobacco leaves is also used for this purpose.

4.2 BODY ACHE - Elephant may be given bath with tolerably hot water. Water is poured gently on the ridge of elephant’s back and the body is given a massage with hands or sometimes with legs.

4.3 BACK ACHE - a hot compress may be given with a gunny bag, soaked in hot water. a little common salt may be added to the water.

4.4 SWELLING IN THE NAVAL - Raw jaggery may be melted and applied over the naval.

4.5 WOUND - An elephant may get a wound due to injury or on being hit by the ankus (driving hook), or ballam (spear). The wound should be washed with clean water and dry turmeric powder should be sprinkled over it. When the wound starts drying up, a mixture of turpentine oil, coconut oil and carbolic acid in suitable proportion should be applied on it.

4.6 INJURY DUE TO ROPES - In case of a domestic elephant, wound caused by a rope may be treated in the manner explained above. In case of a recently captured wild elephant, the wound should be throughly cleaned and a special ointment should be applied on it. This ointment is prepared by collecting earth from a termite mound, boiling it in water and mixing up with turpentine oil. This ointment is also believed to be a painkiller.

4.7 SORE BACKS AND ABSCESSES - An abscess without pus inside, may be treated with hot water compression. In N.E. India, mahouts of also use elephant dung or the root of a wild variety of a plant called "Kochu" (Harum) for giving hot compression. In case of an abscess with pus inside, a paste of red chilly is first applied to draw the pus to the surface. Next day, the abscess is washed thoroughly and allowed to dry up. a slight layer of mustard oil may be applied to sooth the pain. The pus may come out on its own within a day or two. Otherwise, it may be drained out by making an incision into the abscess, using a sharp disinfected dao (cutting knife). The wound is then sprinkled with the dust of the dry bark of pipal tree (Ficus religiosa) to help quick-healing and to prevent re - formation of pus.

Treatment of back-sore takes a long time with a working elephant. It is necessary that the elephant is kept off heavy duty or specially designed gears are used so as to avoid pressure on the affected part of the elephant’s body. The sore should be washed and wiped dry. a thin layer of coconut oil should be applied on it followed by sprinkling of dusted bark of pipal tree.

4.8 INSECT BITE - Painful swellings may be caused on elephants’ body due to bites by wasps hornets or other insects. a specially prepared ointment is applied on the affected area to give relief to the animal. The ointment is prepared by boiling buffalo dung and earth from a termite mound together in water and adding turpentine oil when the solution is luke warm.

4.9 ECZEMA - The affected part is washed with hot water mixed with boric powder and wiped dry with a a clean piece of cloth. It is then "burnt" with pure carbolic acid. a mixture of turpentine oil , coconut oil and carbolic acid is then applied daily on the wound.

4.10 FOOT- ROT - Fungal infection on the heel (called "Chhajan") or soles and toes (called "Karrhi") of an elephant are invariably due to unhygienic conditions of the pilkhana and cause tremendous pain to the animal. In N.E. India, the tissues affected with fungus are burnt with the help of a red hot iron rod. For the next three days, the tissues are also treated with boiling mustard oil mixed with crushed nuts of Bhela (washerman’s nut ie Semicarpus anacardium) and a little blue vitriol (copper sulphate).

Elephants is not allowed to get the affected feet wet. The treatment is repeated if some fungal affected tissues are still left. Otherwise, the wound is treated with the mixture of turpentine oil, coconut oil and carbolic acid till it completely heals up.

5. CONCLUSION - As stated earlier, proper food and working conditions coupled with suitable preventive measures would keep an elephant in healthy condition. However, a mahout should be able to provide first aid and primary medication to the elephant. Last but not the least, he should be able to narrate the complete case history of his elephant to the veterinary doctor. This will help the doctor in making correct diagnosis of the ailment and prescribe proper course of treatment for the elephant.

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HEALTH CARE OF DEPARTMENTAL ELEPHANTS

Dr. V. Krishnamurthy

In Tamilnadu, elephants are maintained in forest department camps, which are located on the forest peripheries. Thus captive elephants live in a semi wild environment and are less prone to serious illnesses, yet, they also become sick or injured now and then. Some of the common health problems observed among camp elephants are discussed below.

I. External ailments:

Injuries : Physical injuries can occur due to various reasons.

  1. Accidents: Elephants may hurt themselves while grazing, by falling into pits, rubbing against rough tree trunks, trees or branches falling on their backs. They may also trip against a root or rock and hurt their legs.
  2. Fights: Camp tuskers, may be injured by a wild tusker, while grazing in the forest. They may also get into fights with each other and get hurt in the process.
  3. Work related: Timber elephants may get hurt at the work site. Their feet might strike against, or trunk might get crushed underneath heavy logs.

II. Ailments of various physiological systems within the body:

1. Gastrointestinal Problems: These can be of various types:

  1. Diet: Lack of succulents or green fodder in the diet causes severe disorders. Green fodder contains 80-90% water, which is very important for various metabolic activities. During dry season when green fodder is scarce, animals feed on dry twigs, leaves, or branches. These do not have sufficient water content, leading to impaction and colic. Besides, fungal spores present in dead wood, may cause intestinal disorders. Sudden change in diet will also lead to intestinal disorders. Dietary changes should be made gradually ; for instance, a change of concentrate diet from ragi to tapioca must be attempted over a period of few days, if not, the animal may develop indigestion leading to diarrhoea.
  2. Flatulence: Certain varieties of grasses (and concentrate feed) have high saponin content. Saponins arrest gases, during digestion, resulting in their accumulation in caecum of alimentary canal. Gas accumulation is very painful and causes respiratory distress. The condition has to be relived immediately with warm soap water enema, antiflatulence drugs, or injections. Asafoetida (or kaayam) is also a good local remedy for gas accumulation.
  3. Hyperactivity shock or stress: In animals and humans, shock or excitement induces the production of the hormone adrenalin in the body. Adrenaline blocks the activity of the enzymes responsible for digestion and also the peristaltic movement of the alimentary canal. In elephants also, excitement or nervousness can cause indigestion.
  4. Diarrhoea: Diarrhoea is a natural mechanism to expel a foreign substances from the body. Presence of irritant in the stomach causes accumulation of fluids, which is removed via excretion. This is diahorrea. Diarrhoea can result from eating mud or stale food. Diarrhoea must be reported immediately to the doctor. Excessive diarrhoea will result in dehydration, leading to coma and finally death of the elephant. Unhygienic food is the normal cause for diahorrea. During public feeding of elephants at the camp, quality of feed is not checked. This also can cause diahorrea.

2. Circulatory disorders:

  1. Heart related ailments: Elephants subjected to heavy timber work, ie. being forced to drag logs along steep slopes, are likely to suffer from heart failure. These animals must be taken off work and given prolonged, palliative treatment. The symptoms are oedema, or dropsy (accumulation of non-inflammatory fluids), slow gait and inability to climb slopes. In Africa, elephants were found to suffer from 'white heart disorder', a condition arising due to sodium deficiency, in the diet. The soil in their habitat has high potassium content. Thus the diet of elephants is high in potassium salts but deficient in sodium. This causes an electrolytic or salt (sodium and potassium) imbalance in the body, which affects their longevity. Perhaps this is why African elephants have a lesser life span, compared to Asians.
  2. Blood Parasites: These are found usually in the blood stream and there are several kinds, such as Filariasis, and Trypanosomiasis. Filariasis causes cutaneous lesions on the skin. Severe itching leads to scratching, and the skin breaks. This itching is caused due to biting flies in the forest areas. Usually nodules are found on the external stomach wall. These nodules bleed when pressed. Preventive measures are to use fly repellant lotions and regular scrub baths.

3. Poisoning:

  1. Contaminated drinking water: Poisoning occurs from contaminated drinking water. While travelling, elephants must not be allowed to drink from water bodies close to paddy fields. The fields may be sprayed with pesticides and fertilizers, which may drain into water bodies nearby.
  2. Insecticide poisoning: Coconut trees are sprayed against pests, in most places. Elephants reject the leaves, since many of the pesticides are strong smelling, but there are some odourless pesticides and the elephant may be poisoned on eating sprayed leaves. Mahouts must therefore not cut fodder from unfamiliar places.
  3. Deliberate poisoning: Elephants have been poisoned deliberately by people, to settle scores either with mahout or elephant owner. In U.K., a case of deliberate poisoning with lead sulphate, has been recorded in a zoo, early in the 1950’s. A mahout should not allow strangers to feed the animal. The food must be checked before feeding the elephant.

4. Parasites: Elephants are prone to parasitic infections at all ages. Chronic parasitism results in - condition loss, diarrhoea, infection of liver (resulting in hepatitis or cirrhosis and loss of function of liver), and defective digestive system. Periodical deworming has to be carried out and specific, continuous treatment to be given. Parasitic infections are more common among privately owned elephants, as they are not periodically de-wormed.

Preventive measures

  • Working elephants develop a callous on their front legs, due to abrasion of the vakka (the rope used for dragging logs). Elephants can be trained to drag timber in the correct way, to prevent callouses
  • Animals used for joy rides should be given periodical rest.
  • Mahouts must not use steep routes during timber hauling, though it may be a shorter route.
  • Long tusks should be trimmed, to prevent injuries during fights.
  • Excessive use of tusk in timber depots result in dropsy, or oedema. Hence mahouts must not force their elephants to carry weights too often on their tusks.
  • Elephants commonly sustain injuries on their legs. While grazing, they may step on bamboo stumps or sharp stones which can get embedded inside the foot. Injuries during elephant capture and training occur more commonly on the legs. Elephants working in slushy areas, and those that have unclean tethering sites, are prone to foot rot. It begins as a crack in the foot and extends up and across the entire foot. The condition is very painful and the animal is unable to walk or rest on its legs. Ill fitting hobbles also cause injuries to the legs. Elephants wear out their foot pad, if marched excessively. It may result in contusion, on the heel. To prevent this, elephants must not be marched on tarred roads., for long distances. They should also not be allowed to walk over sharp stones.
  • Injuries must be subjected to immediate veterinary care. Mahouts must clean and dress the wound everyday.
  • The veterinary doctor has to ensure that all animals are vaccinated for Anthrax. He has to check the mahout’s health also. Mahouts can transmit diseases like tuberculosis and pox to the elephant.

Despite precautions sometimes accidents occur. Calves may be stung by bees & wasps, when they carelessly pull down a branch, bearing a hive. They may also accidentally feed on poisonous plants like nettle and develop rashes and allergies. Elephants may stray into the nearby fields and get shot by villagers. Villagers place home made bombs within tapioca tubers to keep wild boar away. Elephants feed on these tubers by accident and injure themselves.

Caution and foresight will always prevent accidents, diseases and deaths. A good management is always preventative in its policy. In an elephant camp there are several people who are directly and indirectly responsible for the welfare of elephants. Managerial responsibilities have to be distributed and accepted by those involved. Elephant management involves team work and cooperation from various people involved.

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