...that's all very well, but what on Earth's a haplotype? (wide awake in the air-conditioning watching concepts fly over my head).
"It takes all sorts", perhaps a truism for every project or movement (I hesitate to call us a 'cause' for the same reason I refuse to join 'causes' on Facebook - once you make common 'cause' with people you haven't met your fellow 'causers' (?) can get very particular about what may have caused you to cause with their cause because your cause may cause their cause to go off course, of course - it all gets too confusing) and I like to think we have room for all sorts at our little camp, in fact, that might set us apart from many other places, our door is open to 'all sorts' as we have no hard & fast dogmatic theories on how this business of elephant conservation should be done.
So it was that we accepted an invitation to travel down to the beautiful, big city (for us bumpkins - though it was pleasing to see the Laos contingent even more impressed than we were by concepts of live music and cold beer, the glories of living in Hong Sa!) of Chiang Mai to attend the E.U. Asia-Link Project Symposium on the Health & Reproduction of Asian Elephants. Long term readers will re-call (although, for your sake, I really hope not!) that I attended the first of these symposia in Kasetsart University in Bangkok three years ago and complained about the air-conditioning then.
In an equally freezing room we gathered again for an update on the projects, as this was the final year of EU funding there were some conclusions too.
To save you the trouble of reading the proceedings, unless you would like to, I have a copy on CD so anyone wanting an unscribbled (note, not doodled, scribbled with thoughts - though with my handwriting it is hard to tell) upon version bring your laptop & I'll download, I thought I'd share some of my own conclusions. Hopefully they may be interesting to some but mainly to convince my bosses (& my wife) that I wasn't just on holiday at the time.
Unfortunately, the term 'executive dinner' fails to cover up the sound of the band when the telephone rings and beer still tastes like beer whether drunk with the Thai vet's, the CMU, Kasetsart & Chula' Academics, the Laos/French delegation or the bosses of Elephant Nature Park's new and highly laudable Surin venture, so here goes.
So, here's some of what we learned:
Elephant Reintroduction: Managing Captive Elephants by Returning them to the Wild for Natural Habitat Protection: Actually, Dr Sivaporn strayed from the published paper to give a witty account of his introduction to elephants from a lifetime in differing fields of different industries - how he was roped into Her Majesty's Royal Re-introduction Project and what he has learned about elephant behaviour from his time at the project. He gave some great anecdotal accounts of elephant intelligence and suitability to their surroundings & mentioned his revelation that it was the chains that elephants are kept on that destroy more of the forest than the elephants themselves, mentioned an experiment that he had done in which tamarind seeds that had passed through the belly of an elephant, once planted, germinated at the same time as those that had not, however the borborygmised seeds grew several times faster.
He also unveiled a video which is used to educate children as to the benefits elephants can have for the forest, I may have posted it before but it is worth seeing again.
Thai Elephant Camp Management: Past, Present and Future: K. Anchalee gave a great talk on the evolution of tourist elephant camps and her ideas on the directions in which they can go to serve different markets but also to improve the lot of elephants & mahouts - unsurprisingly (given that we consider ourselves a catalyst for the last stage of that evolution and a driver for the future) I agreed with a lot of her points. On a contemporary note she also outlined how many would people suffer (not just the camp owners, elephants and mahouts but the surrounding industries, especially the fodder suppliers) if the tourists stopped coming. She has launched a well publicised campaign to bring tourists back to Chiang Mai, for our part & in parallel with our obvious efforts to request visitors to come to Chiang Rai too, we investigate ways in which we might be able to move beyond tourism (without the equally fickle process of relying 100% on generous overseas donors).
Human-Elephant Conflict and Methods for its Mitigation in the Asia Range States: Dr Oswin Perera gave an overview of the many different methods used and the diversity of the problems in the Asian range states, a thoroughly interesting topic which may affect us directly when the Anantara projects in Xishuanbanna & Sri Lanka take off & underlined the work being done by Elephant Family in building elephant corridors in India (something we indirectly financially support through our funding of an elephant in their Elephant Parade). The most useful direct conclusion was that electric fences tend to work well when the entire herd are inside them from the beginning (& enough fodder sources are included inside) - something we could artificially arrange if we were to get our new land.
Measures for Long-Term Coexistence between People and Wild Elephants in Kui Buri National Park, Prachuap Khiri Khan Province, Southwestern Thailand: This was a paper that outlined the work done by the National Parks and Wildlife service and the Royal Project Initiative under His Majesty the King and though great success was shown in a number of methods to control Human Elephant Conflict in this intensive pineapple growing region of Thailand (including community relations, fencing of different kinds etc.) from a global perspective two things sprung to mind 1, this wasn't always an intensive pineapple growing region and, as I may have stated before, in the old days people didn't expect (or budget for) a year round growing season, those encouraging the poor farmers to convert to pineapple growing as a source of income should bare some responsibility and 2, while all credit must go to the Royal Project staff for their initiative and hard work, their findings also showed that giving elephants and other wildlife room to roam in prime, flatland habitat (rather than the mountainous areas given to most National Parks) allows them to thrive in a more natural manner. Incidentally, we learn this week that Gaur (bos gaurus) have also made a comeback in this park, thanks largely to the sizable area of prime habitat made available under the Royal Project.
Study on Aspects Related to Rehabilitation and Re-integration of Released Juvenile Elephants of Elephant Transit Home at Udawalawe National Park, Sri Lanka: Oh, what can be done with large forests, wild herd and some careful management - though a slightly different aspect (the Sri Lankan calves were wild born, orphaned & then carefully handled, the Thai candidates are all long term domesticated elephants) a lot of parallels between this successful enterprise and Dr. Sivaporn's efforts.
The Breeding of Captive Elephants to Fight Extinction in Laos: Friend Sebastien outlined the problems faced in Laos in keeping the population bouyant: over work & under relaxation; the need for hand to mouth, immediate cash for most elephant owners just to survive; perceived dangers of calf birth; illegal (or at least contrary to CITES) smuggling of young females across borders are all problems leading to a heavily inverted age pyramid in favour of older elephants in Laos. Through elefantasia, they are trying several methods to reverse this trend before it is too late. What struck me, who has often argued that Thailand may have too many elephants, was how the CITES regulations, while set up to protect the species, may also hinder it's preservation as we have plenty of young females and all Thai places appear to be breeding like crazy. Again we get into the argument of extinction vs. extirpation and whether extirpation is so terrible if the species itself is doing well elsewhere, the Lao would counter that for the Land of a Million Elephants to have none would be a cultural disaster. One other great piece of work that elefantasia are doing is setting up the database of microchipped elephants (& microchipping them with internationally recognisable chips) which he agreed to make public to us in order to help prevent smuggling - though a Thai database also exists, it is not public, but at least we'd be able to recognise illegal Laos elephants (if not Thai ones).
Animal Welfare: Initial Proposal - Welfare for the Captive Thai Elephant: The paper sought to recognise the differences between animal welfare and animal rights and suggested that since these definitions are highly subjective (both from the beholding human and from the elephants themselves) that we turn to science & chemical analysis of the blood to actually prove whether or not particular elephants are happy. I found this an interesting notion and almost got my cheque-book out to buy a lab for Dr Cherry to start her own papers on our elephants (until I saw the price), but let's do my own blood first - I'd reckon there are a fair amount of stress chemicals (technical term, see you can tell I was paying attention) every time a pretty young nurse sticks a needle in my arm. Still, given the extreme subjectivity of this very touchy subject science may well be the way to go.
Nutritional Management of Orphaned/Rejected Baby Elephants at Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage: A series of case studies investigating the better choice of milk & solid food to give to elephants that do not have access to their mother's milk - given the science of this (& you'll remember we - well Bua Tong & Am - took part in a study of differing calcium levels over time) and the complexities involved I would say that Pumpui is a lucky little elephant as we just fed her human formula and that seemed to work just fine (though a lot of the reason for these investigations was the high cost of human formula for places that regularly rear five or six orphans at a time). The two scribbles I have in the margin for 'next time' were the idea to start with Human Formula II which most closely matches elephant milk and, as a substitute, buffalo milk (now, I know about this from a rhino we tried to hand rear in Chitwan, cow's milk fat particles are too large to be digested).
Providing Veterinary Care to Domesticate Elephants of Laos (Elefantasia Mobile Elephant Clinic): This was a nice quiet (& easy on my brain) close to day one as, though not involved we have kept ourselves updated with Elefantasia's efforts (along with the Elephant Umbrella Foundation) and achievements to create a mobile veterinary clinic and mahout workshops based loosely on the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre's highly successful model, both of which have been featured in these pages many times.
Goodness me, & that was just day one, perhaps I'd better leave it there for awhile as I can sense you dropping off and as the reason for writing this blog was to convince my bosses that I had been at work, staying for too long typing it becomes a self defeating argument - "not only did you have a three day holiday in Chiang Mai you then spent the next week gabbling on in your far-from-concise report, you're fired" (signed: The Boss).