THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Fatal tuberculosis cases in captive elephants has put forward the urgent need for an official treatment protocol for curing the infected pachyderms. The forest department and veterinarians have brought the matter before the Central Government taking into account the fact that 30 captive elephants have died of TB in the past few years in which the source of the bacterial infection was their mahouts. It may be noted that Kongad Kuttisankaran, the pachyderm which died on Sunday, was also diagnosed with TB more than four years ago.
Normally, the State forest department officials take immediate steps for treating the elephants as soon as they are diagnosed with the disease. But it is always a Herculean task to collect their sputum. Animal welfare organisations such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) had written to Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran in May urging him to direct various devaswom boards and temples to stop using captive elephants as there has been a spurt in TB cases among them. The transmission rate of TB in elephants is much higher than that of humans. But veterinarians and forest department officials say nothing fruitful can be achieved unless the Central Government comes up with a standardised treatment protocol. In Europe, pachyderms diagnosed with TB are immediately euthanized as it is contagious to human beings. For, the infection is transmissible not only between elephants, but also to humans.
TB not in autopsy reports
Even while preparing postmortem report, the veterinarians shy away from including the TB details in the official report as the insurance companies will not provide the amount to the elephant owner. A senior State forest department official told TNIE that they are not allowed to speak about TB-infected elephants as it is a highly sensitive topic. “In the case of Kongad Kuttisankaran, he was diagnosed with TB a few years ago. Accordingly, treatment was started. We can only do antibody tests to detect TB in elephants and not antigen tests. The captive elephants contract the bacterial infection from their mahouts,” said a senior forest official.
Antigen kits not reliable
According to the Forest Department’s statistics, there are 495 captive elephants in the state. During the pandemic period, the elephants are at the receiving end as a sharp decline in temple revenue would also lead to the pachyderms getting no adequate nutritious food adequate to boost their immunity, Dr E K Easwaran, former chief forest veterinary officer, told TNIE. He also said antigen kits are not always reliable to diagnose TB.