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Mitigating Tuberculosis Transmission in Elephants

Tuberculosis (TB) in elephants is a serious, chronic, debilitating bacterial disease most often caused by M. tuberculosis, the human strain. TB can be transmitted from humans to elephants, elephants to elephants, and elephants to humans.

Not long ago TB was unheard of in the wild. Before 2015 there were no reports of TB in wild Asian or African elephants. Now, as of Novembr 2023, there have been 7 cases – two in Africa, one in Sri Lanka, and four in India. And the shocking finding is that these have all been due to the human strain of TB. Once TB gets into a population it can spread – to other elephants or other susceptible species like rhinos or wild deer. By controlling TB at the captive-wild interface, we may be able to mitigate the further transmission of this disease to the wild. 

 

TB is a threat to captive elephants everywhere. This disease is of special concern in Asian elephant range countries like Nepal where captive and wild elephants intermingle during grazing or breeding and where captive elephants come into close contact with wild rhinos during tourist activities. 

Mitigating Disease Transmission to Wild Elephants: The Nepal Elephant Healthcare and Tuberculosis Surveillance Program

Program Goal: Prevent TB Transmission to the Wild by Controlling TB at the Captive-Wild Interface

 

Elephant Care International has been working in Nepal since 2006 to mitigate TB at the captive-wild interface. 

 

We collaborate with the the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPWC), the veterinary school, and the National Trust for Nature Conservation (a Nepali NGO), working with government-owned elephants used to patrol the national parks and privately-owned elephants used for tourism.

 

ECI conducts TB surveillance, provides medications, and ia training and supporting Nepali veterinarians, preparing them to lead the next generation of elephant health and welfare specialists.

 

The Nepal Elephant Healthcare and Tuberculosis Surveillance Program has thus far successfully mitigated the threat of TB. We are proud of these accomplishments: 

  • Nepal is the only Asian elephant range country to have a written elephant TB management plan approved by the Ministry of Forestry.

  • The number of annual deaths from TB have been reduced. 

  • Treatment of TB infected elephants has extended their lives and improved their welfare.  Read Binayak’s story.

  • Nepali veterinarians have received training through the TB Program that has enabled them to seek higher degrees. Two of our TB program veterinarians now have PhDs. 

  • Of the 54 scientific publications concerning TB in elephants published between 2006 and 2016, 22 (41%) resulted from work in Nepal. 

 

This is an on-going program and we need your support to continue. We must re-test all of the captive elephants in Nepal (> 200 elephants), evaluate the elephants that have been treated, and update the Nepal Elephant Tuberculosis Control and Management Action Plan. Please help us help Nepal's elephants.  

Please consider a donation to help us prevent the spread of TB in elephants.  DONATE HERE!

Hiding TB pills for elephants in molasses

Above left and above right:  Pills are often hidden in food items like bananas or molasses balls and hand-fed. But the drugs are bitter and some elephants refuse them. In these cases, the drugs are administered rectally (right).

TB can be transmitted elephant to elephant
Rectal elephant TB treatment
TB medications hidden in food

Above and below: Dr. Sarad Paudel (left) and Dr. Jeewan Thapa (right) prepare pills for TB treatment.

Counting pills for elephant TB medication
Feeding TB medication in molasses ball
Rectal TB treatment in elephants
Elephant back safari Nepal

Above left:  Elephants use their trunks for communication and social interaction potentially transmitting TB from one elephant to another.  Above right: Elephants come close to other species like rhinos during tourist activities putting other species at potential risk for TB.

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