An outbreak of tuberculosis has left the captive elephant population of the State to suffer from a mass die-off.

K.C. Panicker, the noted veterinary surgeon and elephant treatment specialist, said that given the spread of TB, it would not be surprising if the disease wipes out all of the captive elephant population of the State within the next fifteen to twenty years.

Talking to The Hindu, Dr. Panicker said that since the Kerala Captive Elephant Management Rules 2003 prevent trading in elephants, the elephant owners are now unable to replace those animals which die with new ones. The fact is that since the past three to four years captive elephants are dying at an alarming rate, he said.

On an average about twenty five captive elephants are dying in the State annually due to TB, impaction and other disease.

If the captive elephant population of the State was around 800 in the year 2000-2001, it now stands at 695. A good number of those living have contracted TB, Dr. Panicker said.

He said diagnosing TB in an elephant is a difficult and a complicated task. Many such cases are detected only at a critical stage when the elephant becomes extremely weak. That is mainly because of the apathy on the part of elephant owners to subject the animals to regular medical inspection.

Too many elephants coming into contact by standing close to each other leads to the spread of the disease in case one of them had already contracted TB. Elephants in large groups made to participate in gajamelas and festivals stand vulnerable given the incidence of TB among the captive elephants.

B. Aravind, a captive elephant management expert and technical advisor to the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals also said that the TB is fast spreading among captive elephants leading to a big rise the mortality rate of the animals of late. He said that even if diagnosed many elephant owners fail to provide medical treatment since it is costly.

The diagnosed and undiagnosed captive elephants with TB are also made to work and attend festivals.

Dr. Aravind feels that if proper medical care is not provided to them, it would not be surprising if TB and other diseases wipe out all the captive elephant population of the State by the next fifteen years. He also attributed this to the Captive Elephant Management Rules.

Dr. Aravind said that the majority of the captive elephants in the State is around 40 years and their average lifespan is around sixty years though some captive elephants that are given proper care live more..