Myanmar Timber Elephant Project


Parasite ecology

Parasites cause significant mortality in humans, economic losses in livestock production and threaten wildlife. Although many parasitic infestations are preventable diseases, untreated they cause significant malnutrition and increase susceptibility of various diseases. In Myanmar timber elephants, gastrointestinal worms and liver flukes alone directly account for 8% of all deaths (n=2,806) according to post-mortems by veterinarians. Parasites likely also contribute to the 13% of elephants dying of “weakness” without a detailed diagnosis and many dying from gastrointestinal problems. Why do some individuals experience higher levels of infection than others? What determines variation in the re-establishment of infection following anti-parasite treatment? How is parasite infection associated with body condition? How is infection associated with reproductive status and hormones? How does co-infection by several parasites affect the probability and intensity of infection and elephant health?

Along with monthly body weight and endocrinological data on stress and reproductive function, we collect longitudinal data on infection intensities with various gastrointestinal and blood parasites. The timber elephant population represents a great opportunity for such research because of: (i) large existing demographic dataset (ii) faecal/ blood/condition data collection with an almost 100% monthly capture rate; (iii) veterinary expertise from the government-employed elephant vets confirming the presence of diverse parasite fauna; (iv) ongoing regular anthelmintic treatment of the currently living 2700 timber elephants providing easy experimental opportunity.

Watch this space in the near future!