The project concept was triggered by the sad sight of a street elephant in Bangkok.
Initially, two surveys were carried out to confirm that there are problems associated with the domesticated elephants, and to identify possible solutions.
It was decided that although the health and other problems of unemployed domesticated elephants are not a responsibility of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). RSPCA may, in co-operation with the Forest Industry Organization (FIO), help the elephants until permanent solutions are implemented. It was decided to establish a Mobile Elephant Clinic (MEC), for which the FIO would supply the local facilities and the RSPCA would supply the funding.
The idea behind the clinic is that it is easier to move the veterinarian than the elephant. Moreover, there are already hospitals for elephants in Thailand. The model for the MEC is taken from large animal practice in Europe.
Animal welfare aspects
The MEC treats as many domesticated elephants as possible, at no cost to the owner.
Like the working horse in Europe, the domesticated elephants may disappear. Although the MEC cannot change that, there may, because of the veterinary service, be more healthy elephants for possible release into the wild.
The FIO veterinarian performs a daily veterinary service. The European consultant contributes advice and suggestions and stays with the MEC one to two months every six months. Both veterinarians have a veto right, and the motto is: There is always a better way.
Mostly, the daily work can be done with only a little writing. But good recording is crucial if experience is to be shared with others. Moreover, most overseas donors require good recording.
Most of the problems treated are a result of the way elephants are managed, therefore advice seems just as relevant as treatment. However, there are also cases involving poor eyesight and babies taken from their mothers too early. Not many contagious diseases are recorded.
About 250 elephants (10 percent of the domesticated elephants) have been given curative or preventive medicine in the first two years of the project. Advice has been given to the same number of mahouts and owners.
Taking veterinary students along to gain experience, and informing unemployed mahouts about the need for elephants in various tourist camps.
Things could be better, but they could also be much worse.
Learning from experience
Asian as well the European veterinarians can learn a lot from each other. It seems important for the Thais and the NGOs to identify what kind of veterinary service is of most benefit to the elephants. It is important to have an open exchange of information, good working plans and the sharing of ideas among the many parties involved in supplying veterinary and other welfare services to the elephants. Apart from the veterinary challenge in such a project, the administrative challenge should not be underestimated.
To improve the knowledge of the personnel involved and the services of the MEC.
To continue to offer RSPCA support to the MEC, until such support is no longer needed.
The MEC could become a model for other countries, so feel free to contact the RSPCA at <[email protected]> or Bjarne Clausen <[email protected]> for further information.