Signs of Health
Diseases in Captive Elephants
Sick and Injured Elephants: Care and Cure
Health Care of Departmental Elephants
Dr. Jacob V. Cheeran
A healthy elephant should be disease free and conduct its
daily activities without indications of discomfort or
abnormality. Regular monitoring of certain physical signs and
behaviour will indicate an elephant's health condition. A
mahout must regularly monitor his elephant's health, based on
these signs. He must immediately notify his employer or doctor
on observing signs of ill health or discomfort. Discussed
below are points that will help monitor the elephant's health
on a daily basis.
- Elephants require plenty of water for
their metabolic activities. It is estimated that on an
average, they drink 200-255 litres of water per day. If the
elephant does not drink sufficient water, it will become
dehydrated, leading to several other ailments. In order to
make sure that his elephant is drinking sufficient water,
the mahout must check its trunk. The tip of the trunk should
be moist with saliva. If the trunk is dry or appears
cracked, it is obvious that the elephant requires more
- Wounds, rashes and swellings should be
subjected to immediate medical attention.
- The insides of the mouth (mucous
membrane), must be rosy pink in colour. The colour indicates
sufficient quantity and good quality of blood in
circulation. If the colour is pale, the elephant may be
anaemic. In humans and other animals, the eye is examined
for anaemia. Elephants are sensitive to an eye examination.
i.e., they shut their eyes, tightly. Hence this method
cannot be used for elephants.
- The eyes should be moist all the time.
This is a peculiarity of elephants.
- Whitish layers appearing either on the
cornea or the lens are not healthy signs. It could be an
indication of cataract, corneal damage, or old age.
- Several veins are visible on the ears.
Scratches or bruises on this region must be treated
- Elephants are susceptible to sinus
infections. Discharge may run through the trunk during sinus
- The body temperature is checked at the
briskette region. If the region feels cool to the touch, it
indicates ill health.
- Elephants develop swellings on their
body due to injuries or abrasions. The swellings should be
subjected to immediate medical attention.
- The nails have to be trimmed along the
sides. Mahouts should not scrub nails with rough objects
like stones, because the protective waxy coating will be
lost and nails will crack. Sweat glands are located on the
feet, above the nails. Therefore, it is normal to see
moisture around these areas. Absence of moisture indicates
- The elephant's skin is an important
indicator of water balance in the body. Wrinkles and folds
on the elephant's skin prevent loss of water by evaporation
from within, and maintain normal body temperature. If the
skin feels resilient or elastic to the touch, when pinched,
it can be assumed that the elephant is receiving adequate
water. If the skin feels dry and non-resilient, it must be
understood that the elephant is not drinking enough water.
- The pulse is taken below the chin.
This can be felt by the fingers where an artery crosses the
- Foot diseases are common among captive
elephants. Causes and symptoms are discussed elsewhere in
- Multiple hairs are seen arising from
one pore on the head, sometimes. It is noticed that, during
illness these hairs come off easily.
- The quality and quantity of dung and
urine are indicators of health.
- A mahout must regularly monitor his
elephant's diet and drinking pattern, on a daily basis.
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Dr. Jacob V. Cheeran
A healthy elephant preoccupies itself with some activity,
such as swinging tail, and trunk, feeding on palm leaves,
playing with twigs, throwing mud on its back etc. Listed below
are some common ailments that affect the elephants.
- Impaction : Constipation
leading to impaction, is the most common and serious
condition seen in captive elephants in Kerala. Expert
veterinary aid, which consists of fluids and pariental
feeding, are important.
- Worm infestation : Very common
both in captive and wild conditions. Periodical deworming is
a must in captivity.
- Foot rot : Common during
monsoons. Tethering site should be clean and should have
provision for drainage.
- Surra : A protozoan disease. A
debilitating condition which can effectively be treated.
- Lice : Seen at ear folds, inner
aspects of limbs and tail switch. Easily treated with
- Tuberculosis : Often contracted
from the affected mahout. Difficult to institute protracted
- Tetanus : Often results in
death caused by punctured and contaminated injuries. Patient
will present a very pathetic sight.
- Rabies : Commonly caused by dog
bite. Post bite vaccination is effective.
- Injuries to the eye : Often
caused by improper use of the stick by the mahout, causing
permanent damage or blindness.
Arthritis : Common in old animals. Total cure is
difficult. Palliative measures are possible.
Often diseases like Anthrax, Pasteurellosis, Foot and Mouth
disease and Salmonellosis have been reported to occur.
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DIAGNOSIS IN CAPTIVE ELEPHANTS
Dr. Mohammed Shafi
Elephants are susceptible to several kinds of diseases.
Most of them weaken the animal to a large extent and others
prove fatal. Each of these show specific symptoms. The
symptoms have to be recognised at an early stage and the
appropriate treatment provided.
Impaction and colic:
- Lack of appetite. Animal does not eat
- Body posture suggests discomfort
- Lays down and gets up frequently
- Eyes remain closed most of the time
- Brisket feels cool to the touch.
- Dung may be absent, fewer in numbers
or smaller in size
- Stomach may look bloated
- Dull appearance and lack of interest
in drinking water
To confirm impaction or colic, the doctor may apply oil on
his hands, for lubrication and insert into the anus. If dung
is not present, then it can be assumed that the elephant is
suffering from impaction.
The elephant must be given complete rest during this
period. It should not be allowed to haul timber or attend
festival parades. Increased physical activity causes the
intestine to swell and eliminate a lot of fluid through the
anus. This loss of fluid makes the elephant weaker and the
impacted condition prevails for a longer period. Therefore it
is proper to treat the elephant at the same place instead of
moving it to another convenient spot. Doctor should provide
medicines to ease the pain, dilate the alimentary canal and
also to stimulate expulsion of dung. Impaction and colic have
been discussed as separate chapters, elsewhere in this book.
- The palate and insides of the trunk
appear paler in colour. This is due to lack of sufficient
good quality blood or blood supply, in the body.
- Frequent diahorea
- Live or dead worms may be visible in
the dung. Round worms are 1-1/2 inches in length. Tapeworms
are shed as segments and the segments appear as pale , flat,
pieces. (locally, the segments are compared to the pulp or
inner portion of the jack fruit). Amphistomes appear as red
beads in the dung.
- Swellings may be visible on the lower
jaw and abdomen.
- Lack of appetite and occasional
The dung may be inspected in a laboratory, to look for eggs
or cysts of the parasite. Based on the shape and size of the
eggs, the type can be determined. Specific medication must be
provided by an experienced physician, for treating the
- Swellings on the trunk, behind ears,
and the brisket,
- Slower pace during timber hauling
The blood samples of infected elephants will reveal
presence of microbes. The blood also appears very diluted, and
less viscous. Immediate medical aid must be provided to save
- Loss of appetite
- Inability to move jaws freely or open
- The elephant may draw water in its
trunk, but will be unable to squirt it into its mouth
- The limbs lose their mobility. The
elephant is unable to move or fold its limbs.
- They may have occasional spasms
- Due to weakness the elephant is unable
to stand upright and falls onto the ground
There is no treatment for this condition. The condition is
bought about due to untreated wounds, caused by sharp objects.
The only way to save the elephant is to provide a tetanus
toxoid injection, as soon as an injury is observed.
- The elephant rubs its feet together or
rubs it against a tree or hard surface.
- Wounds are visible around the feet.
The skin appears rough and coarse around these wounds.
- Pus-filled sores or swellings can be
seen between the nails. These swellings enlarge and erupt to
- Infected foot or feet, can be soaked
in medicated water for a while, before the application of
other medicines. This provides a relief to the elephant. The
tethering area must be maintained neatly.
Arthritis and Paralysis:
Swellings around the knee portion of the
foreleg. The swellings are painful and the elephant drags its
legs while walking. The swelling may moves upwards onto the
The condition is brought about due to uncontrolled use of
restraining devices, especially the long pole. A combination
of Allopathic and Ayurvedic provide the most effective
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Colic is a condition of abdominal disorder, commonly seen
in elephants. It occurs due to irregularities in diet and
Symptoms of colic:
- Reduced water intake and loss of
- Tendency to eat mud, chewing bark from
- Drowsy appearance and motionless for a
- Mucoid coating absent on the dung. It
appears rough and dry, from eating dry fodder. Dry fodder
does not contain water essential for metabolic activities.
- Stomach rumbles, probably due to
improper digestion and gas formation
- Size of the dung is smaller than
usual. It continues to get smaller, as the condition becomes
- Swellings may be seen on the feet,
brisket and the stretch areas of the body.
- The trunk is twisted often, as if to
expel mucous or gas. This is accompanied by coughs.
- On observing initial signs of colic,
mahout must coax the elephant to drink more water. This is
to prevent dehydration. Salt water is ideal. A few gms of
fried, crystalline salt may be added to a bucket of lukewarm
water. An adult elephant may be given water containing 150
gms of salt. The quantity must vary according to the
elephant’s size. Excessive salt is also dangerous.
- Lemon grass oil (Cymbopogan
flexuvosus) is a natural medicine, sought by elephants
themselves in the wild, as well as in captivity. A loaf of
bread soaked in 30 ml of oil, can be fed to the elephant.
- Branches and leaves of murukku,
(Erythrina indica) can be provided.
- A herbal mixture can be prepared. The
ingredients are- Wild ginger, small, green chillies,
crystalline salt, garlic and fried mustard seeds. They are
ground into a paste and placed inside the elephant’s ration
or concentrate feed. This paste induces the elephant to
drink water and further facilitating dung expulsion. Mud
consumed during early stages, is also expelled along with
- A mixture of hot ash and human urine,
can be used for a hot compress, to treat swellings during
- Asafoetida relieves discomfort caused
by accumulation of gases, in the stomach. 75-100 gms can be
fed along with concentrates ie. rice, only during the early
stages of colic. It should not be administered during
chronic stage, as it absorbs water from the body. Asafoetida
can be administered after novu also. 220 gms of fried and
powdered asafoetida, can be mixed with concentrates on a
- Wild ginger is also a powerful
medicine for stomach ailments.
Care during colic:
Colic if ignored, will lead to a chronic condition called
black colic, and invariably the elephant would die. During
colic, elephants must be given complete rest. The above
mentioned remedies must be practised only under the guidance
of an experienced mahout. If the condition continues to
persist, mahouts must seek veterinary assistance.
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Avanapparambu Maheshwaran Namboothiri
Impaction is a commonly occurring ailment in captive
elephants of Kerala. Impaction is a condition when the
undigested food materials cause a blockage in the intestine.
The condition is very painful and uncomfortable to the
elephant. If not detected and treated at the early stages,
impaction will lead to the elephant's death.
Causes of Impaction
- Impaction is caused when undigested
food materials are retained in the intestine. Elephants
sometimes swallow food without chewing, especially if they
have been starving for a while. Thus the fibrous part of the
fodder may remain undigested, in the stomach.
- Excessive consumption of grains or
seeds can also cause impaction. Undigested grains are likely
to swell within the intestine, causing a blockage.
- Elephants in Kerala enjoy a period of
treatment or rejuvenation (Sukha Chikitsa) every year.
During this period they are given various kinds of
nutritious food and medicines (herbal). After this treatment
period, elephants go back to their normal diet. A sudden
change in diet also can cause impaction.
- Excessive mud eating will also lead to
Impaction is a serious condition and requires immediate
medical attention. Until the doctor's arrival, mahouts may
employ some safe first aid to alleviate the condition.
Hot compresses may be applied on the flanks and abdomen.
This method may not work in case of impaction due to
indigestion. A cloth compress of sand or fried sawdust (to
provide dry heat) can be used, for all kinds of stomach
ailment. It is a very safe method and relieves pain. If the
elephant seems to recover after a few days, the mahouts may
provide warm drinking water. They may also give a warm water
scrub. During impaction, cold water must be avoided for
drinking or washing. In the absence of a heating, water cab be
warmed under sunlight.
Massaging or fomentation requires previous practice. If not
done correctly, it can cause serious complications. It is
therefore advisable for inexperienced mahouts to learn the
correct method of massage and fomentation from experienced
mahouts or physicians.
Impaction may prove fatal in the absence of proper
medical attention or for want of earlier diagnosis. It
requires tremendous patience and dedication from the mahout’s
side to successfully save an impacted elephant.
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INJURED ELEPHANTS : CARE AND CURE
A working elephant may be exposed to many kinds of injuries
and ailments. With the development of veterinary science,
treatment of sick and injured elephants is not a problem. But
in remote areas, experienced veterinary doctors and required
medicines are not easily available and the mahout may be
required to provide first aid or primary treatment before the
services of a veterinarian are available. There are some
traditional herbal-based medicines in different regions of
India, which provide effective treatment against some common
ailments of elephants. In the wild , elephants are known to
use different types of herbs, climbers, leaves etc to treat
themselves in case of sickness. Use of herbal medicines
should, therefore be preferred to other kinds of medicines as
far as possible.
2. PREVENTIVE MEASURES
The saying that "PREVENTION IS BETTER THAN CURE " applies
to elephants in the same way as to human beings. Captive
elephants are subject to injury or sickness more due to
negligence of their keepers than to other reasons. The other
thing that needs to be remembered is that the elephant is a
very costly animal and one cannot afford to lose it
permanently or even temporarily due to injuries or sickness.
Hence elephants should be kept or used with great care. Some
important precautions to be observed are discussed below.
Experience shows that some of the common ailments of
captive elephants relating to eye, feet and skin are because
of filthy and unhygienic conditions of the
pilkhana (stable). Therefore, the
pilkhana must be kept clean and well drained. All
the leftover fodder and dung should be removed to a distance
and burnt periodically. The urine-drenched floor should be
covered with sand and periodically treated with a
disinfectant. The feet of the elephant may be washed with a
solution of potassium permanganate at least once a week to
guard against fungal attack. Elephants should be given regular
bath and their toe-nails and tusks (if any) should be trimmed
periodically. Cattle and other livestock should be kept away
pilkhana. As a rule, captive elephants should not
be made to share their grazing ground and source of drinking
water with other livestock to avoid infection and contagious
An ill fed elephant is quite prone to diseases. Hence the
elephant should be fed properly and timely. The food of the
elephant should not be monotonous and a variety should be
maintained to the extent possible. Extra diet (fodder and
ration) should be provided to the elephants engaged in logging
operation or working overtime. It is believed that regular
feeding of the elephant with banyan tree leaves and branches,
Ficus species, in dry months may cause eye problems.
Similarly, an elephant having problem of digestion or worms in
the intestine or which has recently taken earth, should also
be kept off water for at least three days in such cases. In
case of elephant calves which have recently started grazing, a
careful watch should be maintained so that they do not take
any poisonous plant.
2.3 WORKING OF ELEPHANTS
Working elephants are usually observed to suffer from back
sores or spinal injuries. The reason is either overloading or
uneven loading on either sides of the elephant back. An
elephant may also get back-injuries is its gadela
(mattress) is not of proper specification or not suitably
tied. An elephant may also get injuries on its legs if the
knot of the rope with which the legs are tied is not correct
or its hobbles are not of proper size or if some link of its
chain is pointed and sharp. Gear of the logging elephant needs
careful designing to avoid injuries.
Captive elephants should not be over worked and should be
given proper rest. They should not be exposed for long
duration to direct sun, chilly winds, rains and hailstorms.
They should not be made to march over rocky areas, marshy land
or quicksand. After a long march or heavy spell of duty, an
elephant should not be immediately taken for bath or provided
with drinking water.
2.4 PROTECTION AGAINST WILD ELEPHANTS
Sometimes wild elephant visit a
pilkhana and attack captive elephant , who being
tied, cannot protectthemselves. Mahouts should be alert and
must chase away wild elephant using crackers. Elephant proof
trench or electric fencing around
pilkhana may also be useful.
2.5 PROPHYLACTIC ACTION
Periodic deworming of elephants under the care of a
veterinarian is very important. It is also necessary to
inoculate the elephants agin such contagious cattle-borne
diseases as foot and mouth disease (FMD), anthrax,
haemorrhagic septicaemia (HS) etc. a routine parasitological
examination of elephant dung may help in timely detection of
2.6 USE OF INTOXICANTS:
It is a common habit (rather a vice) among most of the
mahouts to use opium or any other intoxicant to " treat" a
sick elephant. Such intoxicants may suppress the symptoms of
sickness in the elephant or may even cure the elephant for
time-being, but these are harmful to the elephant in the long
run. These intoxicants, besides addicting the animal, also
weaken the elephant and make it susceptible to many diseases.
Therefore, use of intoxicants for treating the elephants
should be strictly prohibited.
3. SYMPTOMS OF AN AILING ELEPHANT
Like an infant an elephant also cannot express its pain and
problems through speech. But like a good mother who can feel
any thing going wrong with her baby, the mahout should be able
to detect any unusual behaviour in his elephant. a mahout
should observe his elephant very carefully every now and then
and should be able to tell what is normal for it and what is
not. Reasons for any abnormal behaviour must be investigated
and immediately reported to the superior authorities and the
veterinary doctor. Some useful tips for the mahout are given
3.1 The mahout must often visit the
pilkhana in the early hours of the morning to see
if his elephant is lying down to sleep. Sleeplessness for many
days at a stretch may be the signs of ailment.
3.2 The mahout must keep a watch over the feeding of his
elephant. Lesser than the usual intake of food should be
viewed with concern.
3.3 He should examine the dung of the elephant carefully.
Presence of worms, earth or unusually large quantity of
undigested food in the dung is indicative of ill health.
3.4 Eating of earth by the elephant also suggest presence
of worms in its stomach or digestive problems or any other
3.5 a healthy elephant is always active and apparently
restless, constantly moving its trunk, tail and legs, flapping
its ears, always chewing something. Its eyes are also bright.
a dull looking inactive elephant, suggests sickness.
3.6 The gait of the elephant should also be observed
carefully. An uneven movement or dragging of feet may be on
account of injury, muscular pain, presence of thorn, foot rot
3.7 Appearance of ribs on the body or forehead of elephant
is a definite indication of weakness.
3.8 The bathing time of the elephant is also the proper
time for physical examination of the elephant. All parts of
the elephant’s body should be examined carefully to detect
injuries, thorns, sores, boils or signs of rot. Different
parts of the elephant should be pressed with hand and the
response of the elephant should be noted to see whether it
feels any pain.
3.9 Periodic measurements of weight and girth of the
elephant also helps in monitoring its health, for example,
loss of weight in any elephant shows bad health. Unusual
increase in the girth of an adult cow elephant within a short
span of time may be on account of its pregnancy. a regular
record of the history of musth in a a bull elephant may help
in determining whether or not the unusual behaviour of the
elephant is indicative of the approaching bout of musth.
4. TREATMENT OF COMMON INJURIES AND AILMENTS
Given below are some local cures for common injuries and
ailments of elephants as practises in N.E. India. Some of the
cures may not look sophisticated or even scientific, but they
are time tested and the ingredients involved are within the
reach of a mahout.
4.1 EYE TROUBLES - Constant watering from the eyes
of the elephant may be due to infection, injury to the eye
ball, cataract, excessive internal body heat. Eyes of the
animal may be washed 3-4 times daily with a weak solution of
alum. Water soaked overnight with tobacco leaves is also used
for this purpose.
4.2 BODY ACHE - Elephant may be given bath with
tolerably hot water. Water is poured gently on the ridge of
elephant’s back and the body is given a massage with hands or
sometimes with legs.
4.3 BACK ACHE - a hot compress may be given with a
gunny bag, soaked in hot water. a little common salt may be
added to the water.
4.4 SWELLING IN THE NAVAL - Raw
jaggery may be melted and applied over the naval.
4.5 WOUND - An elephant may get a wound due to
injury or on being hit by the
ankus (driving hook), or ballam (spear). The
wound should be washed with clean water and dry turmeric
powder should be sprinkled over it. When the wound starts
drying up, a mixture of turpentine oil, coconut oil and
carbolic acid in suitable proportion should be applied on it.
4.6 INJURY DUE TO ROPES - In case of a domestic
elephant, wound caused by a rope may be treated in the manner
explained above. In case of a recently captured wild elephant,
the wound should be throughly cleaned and a special ointment
should be applied on it. This ointment is prepared by
collecting earth from a termite mound, boiling it in water and
mixing up with turpentine oil. This ointment is also believed
to be a painkiller.
4.7 SORE BACKS AND ABSCESSES - An abscess without
pus inside, may be treated with hot water compression. In N.E.
India, mahouts of also use elephant dung or the root of a wild
variety of a plant called "Kochu" (Harum) for giving
hot compression. In case of an abscess with pus inside, a
paste of red chilly is first applied to draw the pus to the
surface. Next day, the abscess is washed thoroughly and
allowed to dry up. a slight layer of mustard oil may be
applied to sooth the pain. The pus may come out on its own
within a day or two. Otherwise, it may be drained out by
making an incision into the abscess, using a sharp disinfected
dao (cutting knife). The wound is then sprinkled with
the dust of the dry bark of pipal tree (Ficus religiosa)
to help quick-healing and to prevent re - formation of pus.
Treatment of back-sore takes a long time with a working
elephant. It is necessary that the elephant is kept off heavy
duty or specially designed gears are used so as to avoid
pressure on the affected part of the elephant’s body. The sore
should be washed and wiped dry. a thin layer of coconut oil
should be applied on it followed by sprinkling of dusted bark
of pipal tree.
4.8 INSECT BITE - Painful swellings may be caused on
elephants’ body due to bites by wasps hornets or other
insects. a specially prepared ointment is applied on the
affected area to give relief to the animal. The ointment is
prepared by boiling buffalo dung and earth from a termite
mound together in water and adding turpentine oil when the
solution is luke warm.
4.9 ECZEMA - The affected part is washed with hot
water mixed with boric powder and wiped dry with a a clean
piece of cloth. It is then "burnt" with pure carbolic acid. a
mixture of turpentine oil , coconut oil and carbolic acid is
then applied daily on the wound.
4.10 FOOT- ROT - Fungal infection on the heel
(called "Chhajan") or soles and toes (called "Karrhi")
of an elephant are invariably due to unhygienic conditions of
pilkhana and cause tremendous pain to the animal.
In N.E. India, the tissues affected with fungus are burnt with
the help of a red hot iron rod. For the next three days, the
tissues are also treated with boiling mustard oil mixed with
crushed nuts of Bhela (washerman’s nut ie Semicarpus
anacardium) and a little blue vitriol (copper sulphate).
Elephants is not allowed to get the affected feet wet. The
treatment is repeated if some fungal affected tissues are
still left. Otherwise, the wound is treated with the mixture
of turpentine oil, coconut oil and carbolic acid till it
completely heals up.
5. CONCLUSION - As stated earlier, proper food and
working conditions coupled with suitable preventive measures
would keep an elephant in healthy condition. However, a mahout
should be able to provide first aid and primary medication to
the elephant. Last but not the least, he should be able to
narrate the complete case history of his elephant to the
veterinary doctor. This will help the doctor in making correct
diagnosis of the ailment and prescribe proper course of
treatment for the elephant.
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OF DEPARTMENTAL ELEPHANTS
Dr. V. Krishnamurthy
In Tamilnadu, elephants are maintained in forest department
camps, which are located on the forest peripheries. Thus
captive elephants live in a semi wild environment and are less
prone to serious illnesses, yet, they also become sick or
injured now and then. Some of the common health problems
observed among camp elephants are discussed below.
I. External ailments:
Injuries : Physical injuries can occur due
to various reasons.
- Accidents: Elephants
may hurt themselves while grazing, by falling into pits,
rubbing against rough tree trunks, trees or branches falling
on their backs. They may also trip against a root or rock
and hurt their legs.
- Fights: Camp tuskers, may be
injured by a wild tusker, while grazing in the forest. They
may also get into fights with each other and get hurt in the
- Work related: Timber elephants
may get hurt at the work site. Their feet might strike
against, or trunk might get crushed underneath heavy logs.
II. Ailments of various physiological systems within the
1. Gastrointestinal Problems: These can be of
- Diet: Lack of succulents or
green fodder in the diet causes severe disorders. Green
fodder contains 80-90% water, which is very important for
various metabolic activities. During dry season when green
fodder is scarce, animals feed on dry twigs, leaves, or
branches. These do not have sufficient water content,
leading to impaction and colic. Besides, fungal spores
present in dead wood, may cause intestinal disorders. Sudden
change in diet will also lead to intestinal disorders.
Dietary changes should be made gradually ; for instance, a
change of concentrate diet from ragi to tapioca must be
attempted over a period of few days, if not, the animal may
develop indigestion leading to diarrhoea.
- Flatulence: Certain varieties
of grasses (and concentrate feed) have high saponin content.
Saponins arrest gases, during digestion, resulting in their
accumulation in caecum of alimentary canal. Gas accumulation
is very painful and causes respiratory distress. The
condition has to be relived immediately with warm soap water
enema, antiflatulence drugs, or injections. Asafoetida (or
kaayam) is also a good local remedy for gas
- Hyperactivity shock or stress:
In animals and humans, shock or excitement induces the
production of the hormone adrenalin in the body. Adrenaline
blocks the activity of the enzymes responsible for digestion
and also the peristaltic movement of the alimentary canal.
In elephants also, excitement or nervousness can cause
- Diarrhoea: Diarrhoea is a
natural mechanism to expel a foreign substances from the
body. Presence of irritant in the stomach causes
accumulation of fluids, which is removed via excretion. This
is diahorrea. Diarrhoea can result from eating mud or stale
food. Diarrhoea must be reported immediately to the doctor.
Excessive diarrhoea will result in dehydration, leading to
coma and finally death of the elephant. Unhygienic food is
the normal cause for diahorrea. During public feeding of
elephants at the camp, quality of feed is not checked. This
also can cause diahorrea.
2. Circulatory disorders:
- Heart related ailments:
Elephants subjected to heavy timber work, ie. being forced
to drag logs along steep slopes, are likely to suffer from
heart failure. These animals must be taken off work and
given prolonged, palliative treatment. The symptoms are
oedema, or dropsy (accumulation of non-inflammatory fluids),
slow gait and inability to climb slopes. In Africa,
elephants were found to suffer from 'white heart disorder',
a condition arising due to sodium deficiency, in the diet.
The soil in their habitat has high potassium content. Thus
the diet of elephants is high in potassium salts but
deficient in sodium. This causes an electrolytic or salt
(sodium and potassium) imbalance in the body, which affects
their longevity. Perhaps this is why African elephants have
a lesser life span, compared to Asians.
- Blood Parasites: These are
found usually in the blood stream and there are several
kinds, such as Filariasis, and Trypanosomiasis. Filariasis
causes cutaneous lesions on the skin. Severe itching leads
to scratching, and the skin breaks. This itching is caused
due to biting flies in the forest areas. Usually nodules are
found on the external stomach wall. These nodules bleed when
pressed. Preventive measures are to use fly repellant
lotions and regular scrub baths.
- Contaminated drinking water:
Poisoning occurs from contaminated drinking water. While
travelling, elephants must not be allowed to drink from
water bodies close to paddy fields. The fields may be
sprayed with pesticides and fertilizers, which may drain
into water bodies nearby.
- Insecticide poisoning: Coconut
trees are sprayed against pests, in most places. Elephants
reject the leaves, since many of the pesticides are strong
smelling, but there are some odourless pesticides and the
elephant may be poisoned on eating sprayed leaves. Mahouts
must therefore not cut fodder from unfamiliar places.
- Deliberate poisoning: Elephants
have been poisoned deliberately by people, to settle scores
either with mahout or elephant owner. In U.K., a case of
deliberate poisoning with lead sulphate, has been recorded
in a zoo, early in the 1950’s. A mahout should not allow
strangers to feed the animal. The food must be checked
before feeding the elephant.
4. Parasites: Elephants are prone to parasitic
infections at all ages. Chronic parasitism results in -
condition loss, diarrhoea, infection of liver (resulting in
hepatitis or cirrhosis and loss of function of liver), and
defective digestive system. Periodical deworming has to be
carried out and specific, continuous treatment to be given.
Parasitic infections are more common among privately owned
elephants, as they are not periodically de-wormed.
- Working elephants develop a callous on
their front legs, due to abrasion of the
vakka (the rope used for dragging logs).
Elephants can be trained to drag timber in the correct way,
to prevent callouses
- Animals used for joy rides should be
given periodical rest.
- Mahouts must not use steep routes
during timber hauling, though it may be a shorter route.
- Long tusks should be trimmed, to
prevent injuries during fights.
- Excessive use of tusk in timber depots
result in dropsy, or oedema. Hence mahouts must not force
their elephants to carry weights too often on their tusks.
- Elephants commonly sustain injuries on
their legs. While grazing, they may step on bamboo stumps or
sharp stones which can get embedded inside the foot.
Injuries during elephant capture and training occur more
commonly on the legs. Elephants working in slushy areas, and
those that have unclean tethering sites, are prone to foot
rot. It begins as a crack in the foot and extends up and
across the entire foot. The condition is very painful and
the animal is unable to walk or rest on its legs. Ill
fitting hobbles also cause injuries to the legs. Elephants
wear out their foot pad, if marched excessively. It may
result in contusion, on the heel. To prevent this, elephants
must not be marched on tarred roads., for long distances.
They should also not be allowed to walk over sharp stones.
- Injuries must be subjected to
immediate veterinary care. Mahouts must clean and dress the
- The veterinary doctor has to ensure
that all animals are vaccinated for Anthrax. He has to check
the mahout’s health also. Mahouts can transmit diseases like
tuberculosis and pox to the elephant.
Despite precautions sometimes accidents occur. Calves may
be stung by bees & wasps, when they carelessly pull down a
branch, bearing a hive. They may also accidentally feed on
poisonous plants like nettle and develop rashes and allergies.
Elephants may stray into the nearby fields and get shot by
villagers. Villagers place home made bombs within tapioca
tubers to keep wild boar away. Elephants feed on these tubers
by accident and injure themselves.
Caution and foresight will always prevent accidents,
diseases and deaths. A good management is always preventative
in its policy. In an elephant camp there are several people
who are directly and indirectly responsible for the welfare of
elephants. Managerial responsibilities have to be distributed
and accepted by those involved. Elephant management involves
team work and cooperation from various people involved.