Wildlife ambulance and veterinary training

The Critically Endangered Sumatran elephant (Elephas maximus sumatrensis) has a population of less than 1500 individuals. They are threatened by ongoing fragmentation and loss of habitat, illegal killing during human-elephant conflicts and poaching.

There is a lack of veterinarians in Sumatra that have specific wildlife experience and skills. This often causes inadequate management of programs and activities where veterinary expertise is required to ensure the successful implementation of elephant and other wildlife conservation programs. Wildlife veterinary teaching and training programs in veterinary faculties in Indonesia are currently very under-developed.

The major goals of this program are to develop high quality elephant and other wildlife veterinary teaching and training, as well establishing the capacity at the veterinary faculty to provide qualified wildlife veterinary services for any kind of conservation program in Sumatra in need. As part of this initiative, a veterinary ambulance for elephants and other wildlife is now being run by the faculty.

In Sumatra, the only veterinary faculty is the one at the Syiah Kuala University in Banda Aceh. Through funding provided by donors including International Elephant Project, the veterinary faculty can now provide the required comprehensive and ongoing training to ensure that future veterinarians have the necessary wildlife skills to undertake vital field work. The establishment of the elephant and wildlife ambulance at the faculty ensures that wildlife veterinary expertise can be provided for elephant and other wildlife conservation programs in a sustainable structure and provides the opportunity for students to get involved and gain hands on training. This will be achieved through three major project components:

Teaching: Conduct lectures, courses and workshops on wildlife veterinary medicine for veterinary students and veterinarians in collaboration with national and international experienced wildlife veterinarians.

Wildlife Veterinary Services: Establish and operate a wildlife ambulance to provide elephant and other wildlife veterinary services for conservation programs and activities conducted by government and non-government institutions in need.

Research: Identify, develop and establish wildlife veterinary research projects in collaboration with the existing institutions at the veterinary faculty and its scientific personnel and international colleagues and institutions.

Overall, the continuation of this program that was established with USFW support will lead to improved conservation of elephants and other wildlife in various conservation programs by ensuring the existence of elephant and other wildlife veterinary expertise and qualified services in Sumatra.

To successfully and professionally conduct the following elephant and wildlife conservation efforts, a provision of specialist veterinary field expertise is crucial for:

  • Translocation of wild elephants and other wildlife.
  • Treatment of wild elephants and other wildlife injured during human-wildlife conflicts.
  • Fitting GPS or radio collars on wild elephants or other wildlife.
  • Rescue of wild elephants and other wildlife trapped in snares or wells
  • Surveillance of infectious diseases that potentially threaten the health of elephants and other wildlife
  • Conducting post mortems on elephants and other wildlife found dead in the wild to investigate causes of death and provide sufficient data and results for legal procedures if needed.
  • Providing regular veterinary care for captive elephants used for wild elephant conservation activities (e.g. habitat patrols and surveys, Human-Elephant conflict mitigation, research, education, eco-tourism) to ensure their health and fitness, thus ensuring the continuation of such elephant conservation programs.

The Wildlife ambulance is based at the veterinary faculty and is manged by IEP veterinarian Dr. Christopher Stremme in collaboration with Dr. Arman Sayuti, the head of the animal clinic at the faculty. The wildlife ambulance is a 4WD pickup truck and one all-terrain motorbike is also used to reach all locations within the province of Aceh where the services of the wildlife ambulance might be requested. The wildlife ambulance does not only provide services within the province of Aceh but, if requested, also provides services all over Sumatra if needed.

In cases where the ambulance is requested to provide services in locations other than in Aceh, the ambulance veterinarians fly from Banda Aceh to the airport closest to the location of request and then travel by rental car to the field location. Veterinary students will be involved in all activities of the ambulance; thus the activities of the ambulance will become an important part of practical teaching and hands on training at the veterinary faculty to develop skills of future wildlife veterinarians.