TB Risk Prompts PETA India Appeal to Devaswom Board Minister: No More Elephants

For Immediate Release:

6 May 2020


Hiraj Laljani; [email protected]

Sachin Bangera; [email protected]

In Light of the Prevalence of TB in Captive Elephants, Group Stresses the Need for Temples to Host Elephant-Free Festivals

Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala – Pointing to this year’s Thrissur Pooram festival, which was elephant-free because of concerns over COVID-19, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) India is calling on Shri Kadakampally Surendran, Kerala’s Minister for Co-Operation, Tourism and Devaswom, to direct the Devaswom boards and temples in the state to stop using captive elephants in festivals, for the sake of both elephants’ and humans’ health. The group states that many captive elephants in Kerala suffer from tuberculosis (TB), which is highly contagious and transmissible not only between elephants but also from elephants to humans.

A copy of PETA India’s letter to the minister is available for download upon request.

“TB in elephants – which can easily spread to humans – has been so prevalent in Kerala that it may wipe out all captive elephants in the state within the next 15 to 20 years,” says PETA India CEO Dr Manilal Valliyate. “PETA India is urging temples to stop using elephants for festivals, as it poses a health risk to thousands of people.”

It’s been reported that, on average, 25 elephants die every year in Kerala because of TB. Elephants can spread TB without ever exhibiting symptoms, just as humans can spread the coronavirus without realising they have it. Many handlers don’t know whether the animals they use have contracted TB, while others know they have but aren’t willing to quarantine and treat them. When infected animals are forced to work at crowded festivals, they come into close contact with other elephants and humans and expose all of them to the disease.

PETA India is also asking Minister Surendran to seek help from the Minister for Forests, Animal Husbandry and Zoos to screen all captive elephants under the Devaswom boards and other temples for TB immediately – and to work with the Minister for Health, Social Justice and Woman and Child Development to do the same for all mahouts and elephant caretakers.

Many progressive temples in Kerala have already chosen to protect the public from TB – and prevent elephants from being distressed by loud crowds and music – by using wooden Jeevathas with mounted idols of deities, chariots, and life-sized elephant figures in their celebrations.

One scientific study of 600 elephants in Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu published in 2012 found “evidence for high prevalence of asymptomatic [Mycobacterium] tuberculosis infection in Asian elephants in a captive Indian setting”. A study published in 2013 by scientists in Kerala discovered “two probable cases of cross-species transmission of M. tuberculosis between mahouts and captive elephants. First is [a] case of human-to-elephant [transmission] and second is a case of elephant-to-human transmission of M. tuberculosis“. A paper published in 2016 by the same scientists stated, “There is evidence to suggest cross-species tuberculosis transmission,” based on one-time screenings of nearly 800 elephants and their mahouts over a period of three years. A paper published in 2017, following confirmation of TB in three wild Asian elephants in Southern India, stated that “tuberculosis may be spilling over from humans (reverse zoonosis) and emerging in wild elephants”.

PETA India – whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment or abuse in any other way” – opposes speciesism, which is a human-supremacist worldview. For more information, please visit PETAIndia.com.