Oil in Uganda, Can it Cause Stress to African Elephants?

Dr. Watuwa in the field drawing blood from an African elephant

Among the 14 research projects the Wild Animal Health Fund approved and funded in 2021 is Dr. James Watuwa’s study on stress levels in African Elephants. Dr. Watuwa is a wildlife and zoo veterinarian with Uganda wildlife conservation education center (Entebbe zoo)as well as a co-founder of the Endangered Wildlife Conservation Organization(EWCO). Based in Murchison Falls, Uganda, Dr. Watuwa wanted to know if the development of oil resources there would stress the elephants that call the park home. The is doing so by gathering fecal samples of the elephants and analyzing them for stress hormones and helminths (parasites). A total of 450 samples will be collected from the 15 herds in Murchison Falls.

Stress on wildlife can be very dangerous. Notably, the effects of stress in domestic animals has been well documented(Animal-Ethics.org), there is fewer studies on wild animals. Less studies means that the severity and quantity of potential stressors that impact wildlife have been underestimated by scientists. Consider the effects of stress on the human body i.e., weakened immune system, insomnia, high blood sugar, headaches, and more. Given that, we can see the critical need to research stress in wildlife.

The purpose of this study is ultimately to generate data on animal behaviors and levels of stress in relation to seasonality and geographical differences and to advise where necessary appropriate measures for minimizing potential impacts from development activities (such as oil and gas). The elephant herds are counting on our veterinarians to keep them happy and healthy!

Dr. Watuwa filmed his process and created an awesome video to share his project with others. If you love this video, please share with friends & family. Your support is what keeps these studies going!