5 bacterial diseases of elephants

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There are several bacterial diseases that affect wild or captive elephants.

Have you ever wondered what are the bacterial diseases of elephants? Do you think they resemble those that occur in other species or do you doubt it? Do not worry because we will now deepen this subject so interesting.

Although elephants generally live long and look strong, they are animals that can also get sick. 

Tuberculosis, one of the bacterial diseases of elephants

Tuberculosis is a fairly common bacterial infection that affects almost all animal species. It has been found in primates, ruminants, birds , rhinos and elephants. The first case of tuberculosis described in African elephants dates from 1962.

An elephant affected by tuberculosis, one of the most common bacterial diseases in elephants


The causative agent is a mycobacterium of the Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex Humans and cattle are the natural reservoir of the majority of the species of this mycobacterium.

Transmission and symptoms

The usual route of transmission is the ingestion or inhalation of bioaerosols (dust mites, skin or hair dander, pollen, fungal spores, etc.). In the case of elephants, transmission occurs, for example, through contact of the proboscis with the mouth of another elephant.

It should be emphasized here that normally elephants do not display clear symptoms. We can however note a loss of weight, anorexia and chronic weakening,  as well as a total intolerance to the realization of efforts. You can also notice an abnormal nasal discharge in the tube.

Staff biosecurity

Since this is a serious and highly infectious disease, prevention by the staff who care for elephants is essential. The use of masks, gloves and specialized suits to take care of sick animals, as well as posterior hygiene – especially of the hands – are essential.


Anthrax is an acute febrile illness that affects the majority of domestic and wild mammals, including birds. In elephants, it appears especially on the side of free species, even if it has already been described in zoos.


The causative agent is the bacteria Bacillus anthracis, which produces very resistant spores in the environment. Infection occurs through ingestion of these spores in their vegetative form. They then move through the respiratory system, the intestine, etc., and spread throughout the body.

The severity of this disease is noted when the spores act as exotoxins, altering the flow of clotting and causing hemorrhages.

Transmission and symptoms

Elephants can be infected in different ways. Vectors such as flies and mosquitoes can infect wounds on the skin or directly inoculate the bacteria. The bacteria can also be excreted in the stools of infected animals and contaminate grass or water.

Respiratory infection causes pneumonia and difficulty breathing. Ingestion of the bacteria causes colic and hemorrhagic diarrhea. And systemic infection can cause neural damage with paralysis and seizures.

Bacterial diseases in elephants: salmonellosis

In general, salmonellosis is a foodborne illness, but it can sometimes cause systemic disease leading to sepsis. The bacteria that cause it is Salmonella spp.

Transmission and symptoms

The salmonella snaps into the gastrointestinal tract of animals which serve as a reservoir. It is eliminated by the stools, thus contaminating the environment. Transmission is therefore generally faecal-oral.

Infected elephants suffer from anorexia, diarrhea and intestinal colic. In the most severe cases, as we saw earlier, sepsis appears.

Some bacterial diseases in elephants are caused by food


In this case, we are facing a group of diseases caused by Escherichia coli . Some cause invasive tissue infections and others cause enterotoxemia. However, you should know that normally E. Coli  is already part of the intestinal flora of animals.