Abstracts of the
International Elephant Research and Conservation Symposium
(IEF – International Elephant Foundation)
2007, Orlando, Florida

A Study of Mortality pattern and Health Hazards Facing by Wild Elephants in the Mahaweli Wildlife Region, Sri Lanka

Vijitha B. V. P. Perera
Department of Wildlife Conservation, Sri Lanka


The Mahaweli wildlife region composed Pollonnaruwa, Trincomalee and Batticalo districts with parts from the Matale, Ampara and Badualla districts. Around 34% of Sri Lankan wild elephant population inhabit in the Mahaweli Wildlife region. The objectives of this study were to examine the causes of elephant deaths and to identify the hazards faced by wild elephants. Study was conducted between July 1999 and April 2007 History and postmortem finding were used to study the possible causes of death. Treatments of elephants at the study period were analyzed to assess the health hazards face by the wild elephants.

Two hundred and five post mortem examinations revealed that gunshot (n 108), railway accidents (n 12), vehicular accident (n 1), electrocution (n 13), drowned in irrigation canals (n 9), noosing (n 2), suspected foot and mouth disease (n 2), debility due to old age/ natural (n-18), tranquilizing complications ( n 4), falling into manmade pits (n 2), gastro intestinal infections (n 2), parasitic infestation (n 2), land mines (n 2), artillery wounds (n 1), obstruction of intestines due to polythine (n 1) and poisoning (n 1) were the causes of deaths. The causes of 25 deaths could not be ascertained.
Male to female Sex ratio of 172 sex-ascertained deaths were the 5:1. Their age ranged from few days to 60 years. Of the 143 males, 99 (69%) were sound breeding bulls that age between 20 to 40 years. Out of 29 females, 20 were in breeding age and 09 of them were in different stages of pregnancy. One hundred and fifty seven wounded elephants and eleven disease infected elephants were treated at the study period. The wounds are due to gunshots (n 129), noose (n 7), natural (n 12), railway accidents (6), land mines (n 2) and vehicular accidents (1).
The diseases were: suspected foot and mouth disease (n 2), gastro intestinal infections (n 2), parasite infestation (n 4) and could not ascertain (n 3). In addition, 12 animals were treated those were physical debility due old age. The male to female sex ratio of wounded elephants are 6:1.

The results indicate that the major causes for human-mediated deaths and wounding in elephants were due to gunshot injuries. The prognosis is good for the treatment of fresh gunshot injuries and treatment for noosed animals. The old infectious gunshot wounds are rarely cured. Maggot infestation of wounds makes the situation worst. The practical difficulties for repeat treatment and post treatment monitoring are the major constraint in wild elephant treatments. The difficulty of manipulating the wounded elephant due to its size and strength is one of another constraint to treat them. Treatment of old age animals for general debility, only help them to live few more days to several weeks.
Low numbers of natural deaths are largely due poor reporting of such occurrences. The death of sound breeding bulls and restricting of movements may lead the loosing of favorable gene traits as well as inbreeding of population. It is obvious that elephants in the Mahaweli Wildlife Region are under stress due to above mention human disturbances associated with loss of habitats, blocking of traditional pathways, imbalances in nutrition, inbreeding, and competition for basic requirement with domestic herbivores and expanding wildlife tourism industry. This is the ideal situation for devastating disease outbreaks among elephants. Therefore, an effective health-monitoring program is an essential requirement in elephant conservation.