Even as the world fights to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, animal right organizations in the city are calling for the urgent attention of authorities to another imminent zoonotic threat -- tuberculosis -- faced by captive elephants in the state. It is learned that the captive elephant population in the state is fast dwindling because of poor veterinary care and improper screening of the elephants for zoonotic diseases. As per the statistics with the Kerala Forest and Wildlife Department, there were around 702 captive elephants in the state in 2010 and the number came down to 521 in 2018. The latest count shows a further drop to less than 500.
PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animal), India has urged the Kerala Government to impose a blanket ban on deploying elephants for temple festivals and other celebrations to ensure the prevention of zoonotic disease transmissions including COVID-19 and tuberculosis between animals and humans.
According to a study, many Indian elephants have tuberculosis while 25 elephants die every year on an average in Kerala because of the disease and other reasons.
The study carried out on 600 captive elephants in Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu found a high prevalence of asymptomatic mycobacterium tuberculosis infection -- the bacterium that causes tuberculosis in humans. PETA has strongly recommended the government to immediately screen all captive elephants for tuberculosis and treat affected ones.
“COVID-19 is a zoonotic disease and so is tuberculosis. It is high time that the government made interventions in preventing such diseases among captive elephants. The authorities are not carrying out routine tuberculosis screening which is mandated by the rules. Unfortunately, infected captive elephants are forced to work and paraded around at crowded festivals increasing the chance of disease transmission to humans and other elephants. The government should take a stand on this immediately and should provide veterinary care for elephants,” said Dr Manilal Valliyate, CEO of PETA India.