Elephant Disease Fact sheets       

Elephant Care International Fact Sheet

Susan Mikota DVM


  • family: Enterobacteriaceae
  • gram negative,  non-spore-forming bacterial rods
  • most motile
  • 2000 serovars/serotypes


  • warm and cold-blooded animals
  • may be commensals (part of the normal flora of the GI tract)
  • shed intermittently in feces
  • may survive for months in soil; will multiply in water
  • exotoxins →  GI disease; septicemia

Transmission and Pathogenesis

  • severity depends on infectious dose, resistance of the host to colonization within the gastrointestinal tract and the particular serovar

  • high host resistance → infection contained diarrhea only

  • low host resistance + virulent serovar → proliferation in spleen and liver → septicemia

  • humans may be source for elephants

Clinical Signs in Elephants

  • stress, immune depression predispose

    anorexia, lethargy,

  • constipation ,colic,

  • watery diarrhea +/- blood

  • pain, hunched posture

  • shock, septicemia


  • fecal cultures; multiple samples (shed intermittently)
  • blood cultures if septicemia evident
  • postmortem: culture liver, spleen, bone marrow
  • histopath: hemorrhages on mucosal surface of intestine; necrotic ulceration ; spleen and liver lesions
  • serotyping by PCR


Differential diagnosis

  • salmonella should be in the DDX of any disorder presenting with diarrhea or vague signs
  • other gi infections
  • foreign bodies
  • toxicity


  • aggressive treatment may be life-saving!
  • fluids (correct electrolyte imbalances)
  • antibiotics (based on culture and sensitivity)
  • pro-biotics (e.g. lactobacillus)
  • asymptomatic carriers remain a dilemma

Zoonotic potential

  •  most widespread zoonosis in the world

  • no documented cases of eleph → humans but human → eleph suspected in several cases

  • hygienic precautions advisable in known or suspected elephant cases

Links to general information about Salmonella:

1. Todarís On-line Textbook of Bacteriology:


2. Medical Microbiology: http://gsbs.utmb.edu/microbook/ch021.htm

3. CDC:  http://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/diseases/salmonellosis.htm

4. U.S. Food and Drug Administration Foodborne Pathogenic Microorganisms
and Natural Toxins Handbook: 

5. WHO:  http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs139/en/


Salmonella References with Abstracts June 2005


Elephant Care International Bibliographic Database (www.elephantcare.org)


   1.   Chakraborty,A. 2003. Diseases of elephants (Elephas maximus) in India-A Review. Indian Wildlife Year Book 2:74-82.

   2.   Chandrasekharan,K. 2002. Specific diseases of Asian elephants. Journal of Indian Veterinary Association Kerala 7(3):31-34.
Abstract: The earliest writing describing the diseases of elephants in ancient literature said to be the works on "Gajasastra" (Elephantology) written in Sanskrit by authors like Gautama, Narada, Mrigacharma, Rajaputra and Vyasa. "Hasthyayurveda" a legendary book in Sanskrit written by a safe Palakapya deals with some diseases, treatment, desirable and undesirable points of selection, management practices and some mythological aspects on the origin of elephants. The earliest book in English dealing with diseases of elephants seems to be that of W. Gilchrist "A practical treatise on the treatment of diseases of elephants" published in 1848. Later Slym (1873), Sanderson (1878), Steel (1885), Evans (1910), Herpburn (1913), Milroy (1922), Ptaff (1940), Ferrier (1947), Utoke Gale (1974), Chandrasekharan (1979) and Panicker (1985) have documented their findings on the incidence, etiology and control of diseases of Asian elephants.

   3.   Miller,M., Neiffer,D., Weber,M., Fontenot,D., Stetter,M., and Bolling,J. 2001. Salmonella Culture and PCR Results in a Group of Captive African Elephants (Loxodonta africana). A Research Update on Elephants and Rhinos; Proceedings of the International Elephant and Rhino Research Symposium, Vienna, June 7-11, 2001, pp. 83-86.

   4.   Ratanakorn,P. 2001. Elephant Health Problems and Management in Cambodia, Lao and Thailand. A Research Update on Elephants and Rhinos; Proceedings of the International Elephant and Rhino Research Symposium, Vienna, June 7-11, 2001, pp. 111-114.

   5.   Emanuelson,K. 2000. Protected Contact and Medical Care in Captive Elephants, with a Case Presentation of Salmonellosis in Elephants at the Oakland Zoo. Elephants: Cultural, Behavioral, and Ecological Perspectives; Program and Abstracts of the Workshop, pp. 9.

   6.   Emanuelson,K.A. and Kinzley,C.E. 2000. Salmonellosis and subsequent abortion in two African elephants. Proc. AAZV and IAAAM Joint Conf., pp. 269-274.

   7.   Mikota,S.K. 1999. Diseases of the Elephant: A Review. Verh.ber.Erkrg.Zootiere 39:1-15.

   8.   Mbise,A.N., Mlengeya,T.D.K., and Mollel,J.O. 1998. Septicaemic salmonellosis of elephants in Tanzania. Bulletin of Animal Health and Production in Africa 46(2):95-100.
Abstract: The first isolation of Salmonella enterica subsp. enterica serovar typhimurium (S. typhimurium) from an African elephant (Loxodanta africana) that died in August 1997 at the Tarangire National Park near a campsite in Northern Tanzania is reported. This and other findings suggest the potential role of wildlife in the epidemiology of Salmonella sp. infections. Also, the isolation of this S. typhimurium serovar as a zoonosis demonstrates the danger that humans and animals in the Tarangire ecosystem are exposed to, as this serovar is ubiquitous among different species of animals.

   9.   Pagan,O., Heldstab,A., Vollm,J., Weiser,T., and Hockenjos,P. 1997. Salmonellosis in elephants: possibilities and limits of control. Erkrankungen der Zootiere: Verhandlungsbericht des 38. Internationalen Symposiums uber die Erkrankungen der Zoo- und Wildtiere von 7 bis 11 Mai 1997, in Zurich, Schweiz., pp. 305-310.

10.   Suedmeyer,K. 1996. Salmonella typimurium infection in an African elephant. Journal of the Elephant Managers Association 7(3):50-52.

11.   Bengis,R., 1993. Care of the African elephant Loxodonta africana in captivity. In The capture and care manual : capture, care, accommodation and transportation of wild African animals.Pretoria Pretoria : Wildlife Decision Support Services : South African Veterinary  Foundation, pp. 506-511.

12.   Ebedes,H., 1993. The use of long-acting tranquilizers in captive wild animals. In The capture and care manual : capture, care, accommodation and transportation of wild African animals.Pretoria Pretoria : Wildlife Decision Support Services : South African Veterinary  Foundation.

13.   Chooi,K.F. and Zahari,Z.Z. 1988. Salmonellosis in a captive Asian elephant. Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine 19:48-50.
Abstract: Salmonella blockley was isolated from an Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) with intestinal lesions in Malaysia.  A second elephant that died with similar lesions also was suspected to have Salmonella sp.  This is the first case of salmonellosis in an Asian elephant from Malaysia.

14.   Raphael,B.L. and Clubb,F.J. 1985. Atypical salmonellosis in an African elephant. Proceedings American Association of Zoo Veterinarians:57.

15.   Janssen,D.L., Karesh,W.B., Cosgrove,G.E., and Oosterhuis,J.E. 1984. Salmonellosis in a herd of captive elephants. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 185(11):1450-1451.

16.   Scott,W.A. 1984. Salmonellosis in an African elephant. Veterinary Record 115(15):391.

17.   Windsor,R.S. and Scott,W.A. 1976. Fascioliasis and salmonellosis in African elephants in captivity. British Veterinary Journal 132(3):313-317.

18.   Decker,R.A. and Krohn,A.F. 1973. Cholelithiasis in an Indian elephant. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 163(6):546-547.
Abstract: Cholelithiasis with accompanying dilation of the bile ducts was found on necropsy on a young Indian elephant (Elephas maximus).  Salmonella london was isolated from a composite of minced intestine, liver, spleen and heart.

19.   Windsor,R.S. and Ashford,W.A. 1972. Salmonella infection in the African elephant and black rhinoceros. Trop.Anim.Hlth.Prod. 4(4):214-219.
Abstract: Salmonellosis in two captive African elephants and a black rhinoceros is described.  Necropsy findings and characteristics of the salmonellae isolated are outlined. Possible sources of infection are discussed and on the basis of their findings, the authors make recommendations for the care of newly captured wild animals.

20.   McGaughey,C.A., Schmid,E.E., St.George,C., and Velaudapillai,T. 1954. Salmonella infections of domesticated and wild animals in Ceylon. Ceylon Veterinary Journal 2:86-88.

21.   McGaughey,C.A., Schmid,E.E., Velaudapillai,T., and Weinman,A.N. 1953. Salmonella typhimurium in young elephants and chimpanzees. Veterinary Record 65:431-432.

22.   Goss,L.J. 1950. Animal hospital. 55th Annaul Report,New York Zoological Society:20-23.

23.   Buttiauz,R. and Gaumont,R. 1948. Infection mortelle d'un elephant par Salmonella oslo. Bull.Acad.Vet.Fr. 21:399-342.

24.   Matzke,M. 1940. Enteritis (Breslau) infektion dei elefanten. Tierarztl.Rdsch. 46:521-522.



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