Dr. Mark Stetter, Director of Animal Health at Disney's™ Animal Kingdom, recognized the challenges with over-population and habitat destruction in wild elephants in southern Africa. In an attempt to bring new technologies to help resolve complex conservation issues, he came up with the concept of performing vasectomies on wild, free ranging bull elephants as an option for population management.  Advances in medical technology could now be applied to elephants, resulting in effective and humane solutions that would preserve the complex family structure of wild elephants.

Dr. Stetter recruited Dr. Dean Hendrickson, Professor of Equine Surgery at Colorado State University, who is a pioneer in minimally invasive surgery using laparoscopy, to help him develop the surgical technique.  This required the development of specialized equipment by the Karl Storz Veterinary Endoscopy Company.  In addition to developing this surgical technique, Drs. Jeff Zuba from the San Diego Wild Animal Park and Jessica Seigel-Willot from the Smithsonian National Zoo, and Dr. Douw Grobler and JJ Van Altena, game capture experts from South Africa, developed safe anesthetic and restraint techniques for the wild elephants.

The group also developed partnerships with key individuals in southern Africa including Dr. Mark Penning, faculty members from the University of Pretoria Faculty of Veterinary Science, local veterinarians who specialize in large game capture, and game reserve and national park managers.  The team has now grown to include a multinational consortium of volunteers who work together on initiatives currently focused in southern African countries.

The Elephant Population Management Program was established as a non-profit corporation in November of 2009 and achieved 501©3 tax exempt status under the United States Internal Revenue Service in May 2010.


A timeline of important events in our organization's history:
Mouse over each date to read more

2004

Inception of the concept to perform vasectomies as an elephant population management method. Development of elephant laparoscopic equipment with Karl Storz Veterinary Endoscopy.

2005

In collaboration with the Makalali Game Reserve, four bulls had partial vasectomies (one side). The procedure was lengthy and lasted about four hours, all animals recovered without incident.

2006

In collaboration with the Welgevonden Wildlife Reserve, successful vasectomy of four free ranging bull elephants was achieved with no surgical or anesthestic complications. Initiation of behavioral observation study indicates normal behavior patterns including musth, breeding (without impregnation), and maintenance of social status.

2007

In collaboration with the Mpumalanga Parks Board, vasectomies were performed on five bull elephants at the Songimvelo Wildlife Reserve. These elephants had been slated for culling in 2008. Capacity building was initiated with the training of South African veterinarians.

2008

In collaboration with the Space for Elephants Foundation and the Pongola Game Reserve, vasectomies were performed on seven bull elephants. A long-term research program was initiated to study declines in elephant growth rate and potential associated social and behavioral effects. Efficiencies in the procedure greatly decreased surgery time to less than two hours and the team was able to perform two procedures in one day.

2009

In collaboration with Swaziland Big Game Parks, eight bull elephants received laparoscopic vasectomies at Hlane and Mkhaya National Parks. Capacity building efforts continued with the training of veterinarians from the University of Pretoria’s Faculty of Veterinary Science and the South African National Parks Board. Efficiencies in the surgical procedure continued to greatly improve and currently, the surgery can be completed in less than one hour, enabling three bulls to be vasectomized in one day.

Community Outreach" Conservation Education Program. 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.

2010

Currently in the planning phase with two South African game reserves, with plans to perform 10-15 vasectomies in free ranging elephants. The main goal for 2010 is to continue to train local veterinarians on the anesthetic and surgery protocols for future and local sustainability of the program. EPMP has received 501c3 status from the IRS as a non-profit organization.

2011

The EPMP team has a successful trip to the Selati Private Game Reserve in South Africa where 14 successful elephants were performed on their bull elephants. South African based veterinarians furthered their knowledge in both laparoscopy and anesthesia and completed the last surgery independently. In addition, Dr. Linda Penfold from SEZARC and Paul Bartels from the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa successfully collected semen from 3 elephants that will be cryopreserved in South Africa. This will become a resource to diversify genetics among captive African elephants.