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Conference on Elephant Tuberculosis Research Establishes Action Plan at International Symposium on Elephant Conservation
Date:11/12/2007

VIENNA, Va., Nov. 12 /PRNewswire/ -- Conservationists and scientists from around the world gathered for the 2007 International Elephant Conservation and Research Symposium, in Orlando, Florida. The Symposium was hosted by the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Center for Elephant Conservation(R) and the International Elephant Foundation (IEF), and was held in conjunction with a two day global Conference on Elephant Tuberculosis Research. The Conference brought together experts in human and animal medicine, including veterinarians, pathologists, immunologists, epidemiologists, internists, geneticists, and animal management experts, to discuss the current state of tuberculosis (TB) research for elephants.

"The caliber of the individuals attending this Research Conference truly signifies the level of concern for further exploratory efforts about this disease," said Kenneth Feld, Founder of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Center for Elephant Conservation and sponsor of the Conference. "The Asian elephant holds a special place in my family's heart and we are committed to ensuring the survival of this magnificent species."

It has been more than ten years since TB in elephants was recognized as a health concern for the species. The objective of the Conference was to further investigate and prioritize areas of research and development relating to the diagnosis, treatment and epidemiology of TB in elephants. As a result, the attendees identified critical areas of research, which included: improving diagnostic capabilities, determining safe and effective treatment, assessing transmission in both captive and wild populations, and evaluating occupational risks associated with TB and elephant husbandry. The attendees also agreed that misleading information is detrimental and that the dissemination of accurate, factual information to the public and regulatory authorities is of the highest ethical priority. Additionally, the group decided that further funding sources will be needed in order to mobilize these critical areas of research.

In 2005, IEF and the Houston Zoo initiated an Endotheliotropic Elephant Herpesvirus (EEHV) workshop to bring together medical and veterinary experts to find a means to diagnose, treat and prevent EEHV, perhaps the single greatest health threat to the Asian elephants in human care. The group returned to this year's International Symposium with an update on the development of an ELISA test to determine which elephants have been exposed to the virus and the recent discovery of a new herpesvirus that is related to but genetically distinct from previously identified EEHV types. The Workshop has also pursued other key projects, such as the establishment of a herpes research lab in Asia and an ongoing epidemiology study. In 1995, pathologists at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park were the first to identify EEHV while investigating the sudden death of a 16-month-old Asian elephant born at the zoo. Only four known elephants have survived the disease, one of which is currently residing at the Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation(R).

Since the identification of EEHV, it has been determined that it has caused the death of almost one-quarter of the calves born into human care in North America and Europe, and recently investigators have reported multiple elephant deaths in Asia attributable to EEHV.

"This is a particularly devastating disease for elephant managers and conservationists. Not only does EEHV kill but it kills the most precious members of an elephant herd, the babies," said Deborah Olson, Executive Director of the International Elephant Foundation and co-sponsor of the Conference. "This is a worldwide problem and we must partner in finding solutions if we are to conserve the Asian elephant."

The International Elephant Conservation and Research Symposium provides a unique forum for the exchange of information and ideas for scientists and conservationists who are developing new and innovative methods in the health, management and preservation of both captive and wild elephants. This year's Symposium was comprised of presentations in the areas of veterinary medicine, captive management, nutrition and physiology, reproduction, behavior, and in situ conservation and management, including the increasing challenges of human elephant conflict in range countries.

Symposium presenters and attendees represented a host of national and international organizations and institutions including the Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation(R), SeaWorld and Busch Gardens, Disney's Animal Kingdom, the Smithsonian's National Zoological Park, Missouri State University, University of Sydney, the Leibniz-Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, Berlin, Germany, the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society, and the Asian Elephant Research and Conservation Centre at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, to name just a few. The abstracts from those presentations may be found at http://www.elephantcenter.com.

The Symposium is a key component of the IEF's mission to support and operate elephant conservation and research programs, with an emphasis on management, protection and scientific research. Funding for IEF' programs is provided largely by zoos and other institutions such as Disney's Animal Kingdom, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay and Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey(R), that care for elephants in North America and Europe, along with individual donors who also want to promote preservation, education and research of the world's elephant populations.

About the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Center for Elephant Conservation: The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Center for Elephant Conservation was founded by Feld Entertainment, Inc., the parent company of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, to ensure that future generations have the opportunity to experience the endangered Asian elephant. Built in 1995, this 200-acre, state-of-the-art facility was designed for the reproduction, research and retirement of the Asian elephant and enable Ringling Bros.(R) to share its elephant husbandry knowledge with the veterinary and conservation communities worldwide. For more information about the Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation visit http://www.elephantcenter.com.

About the International Elephant Foundation (IEF): The IEF is a nonprofit organization which supports African and Asian elephant conservation and research programs. Formed in 1998, the IEF Board of Directors consists of highly regarded elephant experts affiliated with a variety of international organizations, including non-profit and for-profit zoological institutions, circuses, universities and independent entities. IEF funds specifically support the protection of African and Asian elephants in the wild, the protection of elephant habitats, scientific research, educational efforts, and improvement in captive elephant care. For more information about the IEF visit http://www.elephantconservation.org.


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SOURCE Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Center for ElephantConservation
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