Elephant Vasectomy Program
The elephant is unique because they are one of a very few land mammals that have intra-abdominal testes. Consequently, abdominal surgery is necessary to perform a vasectomy, a procedure that removes a small section of the vas deferens, similar to the procedure that is performed in human males. The EPMP team has developed a unique surgical technique, with the use of a specially designed laparoscopic equipment, to perform vasectomies on free ranging elephants in the bush of Africa.
Minimally invasive surgery (similar to gall bladder surgery in people) allows access to the abdomen using smaller incisions, in which long narrow instruments are inserted to perform a surgery. Laparoscopic surgery decreases the chance of infection and other complications, is less painful for the bull elephant, and significantly decreases recovery time. These small incisions are ideal when working in the natural environment of the African savannah.
The bull elephant is anesthetized and then placed into a modified standing position using an overhead sling attached to a crane truck. This allows the surgeons access to the flank area for ideal entry into the abdomen with the laparoscope to perform the vasectomy. The anesthetic protocols, specialized equipment and sling systems were developed by this team for use in the vasectomy procedures specifically with the health of the elephants in mind.
The surgical team can now complete the surgery in approximately 60 minutes, and has done as many as three elephants in a single day. Within minutes of completion of the procedure, the anesthetic is reversed and the elephant is up walking and back into the African Bushveldt.
Research to monitor the impact of the Elephant Vasectomy Program on population growth, behavior, and ecosystem health.
The EPMP team is involved in studies to evaluate the outcome of the vasectomy program. A behavioral observation study started in 2006 indicates normal behavior patterns including musth, breeding (without impregnation), and maintenance of social status. In 2008, a long-term research program was initiated to study declines in elephant population growth rate and potential associated social and behavioral effects.
In country capacity building to support long term administration of the program
In order for EPMP programs to be sustainable for the long term, we recognize the importance of building capabilities among stakeholders in southern Africa. Therefore, the main goal for 2010 and beyond is to continue to train local veterinarians on the anesthetic and surgery protocol for future and local sustainability of the program.
Nkomo Primary School
Community outreach and in-country conservation education
In conjunction with Disney's™ Animal Programs, Education and Science Department, a conservation education program was initiated at the Nkomo Primary School in Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa. Additionally, EPMP team members regularly speak at scientific conferences and make presentations at southern African reserves and parks about elephant conservation and population management through vasectomies.