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Elephant SSP Veterinary Advisor Report

August 2003


This report is being submitted to update the Elephant TAG/SSP on the current activities of the veterinary advisory group (John Lehnhardt, Michele Miller, Susan Mikota, Richard Montali).  The advisors also wish to recognize Drs. Genny Dumonceux, Dominic Travis, Mike Ziccardi, Ramiro Isaza, Bill Lindsay, Dennis Schmidt, Janet Payeur, Denise Sofranko, Laura Richman, Robyn Barbiers, Kirk Suedmeyer, and Donald Neiffer for their contributions to the work done over the last year.


  1. The Elephant Necropsy Protocol 2003 was completed and is now available on the USDA (, AAZV (, and Elephant Care International ( websites for reference.  The current version is dated January 2003.
  2. The Elephant Research and Tissue Request Protocol was completed and is now available on the USDA (, AAZV (, and Elephant Care International ( websites for reference.  The current version is dated April 2003.
  3. WNV survey information – An informal survey was sent to veterinarians at AZA institutions holding elephants (see attachment).  Results were compiled and have been sent to the respondents.  Preliminary results in a few elephants that have been vaccinated with the equine WNV vaccine suggest that elephants will develop a post-vaccination antibody titer.  Although clinical disease associated with WNV infection has not been reported in captive elephants to date, it appears that both Asian and African elephants have been exposed to WNV due to seropositive results in screening tests.  Additional research to assess the risks in elephants will need to be performed before vaccination recommendations can be made. 
  4. Salmonella screening in elephants – One study is underway in a single herd of African elephants (3.7) to screen asymptomatic animals for Salmonella shedding by culture and PCR.  Results to date are: 19 positive cultures out of 1050 samples in one lab and 0 positive cultures out of 422 samples at a second lab (samples were divided and cultured); 53 positive PCR samples out of 1096 samples.  These samples were collected over a 3-year period.  Early analyses indicate that the period prevalence for asymptomatic Salmonella shedding in this herd is 1.81% based on positive cultures and 4.84% based on PCR.  These results suggest that Salmonella may be present at a higher than previously expected level in captive elephants.  Additional studies need to be done to include more captive herds.
  5. Guidelines for  preshipment health evaluation, routine preventive health program, transport and quarantine of elephants have been requested by the AZA-Veterinary Advisors Group for all SSP species.  These drafts have been forwarded to the AZA-VAG chairs for further review.  Copies have been attached to this report.  These guidelines are similar to those being published in the Elephant Husbandry Manual.
  6. Elephant TB Working Group – The newly revised USDA guidelines for elephant TB are released and available at  Drs. Michele Miller, Genny Dumonceux (Busch Gardens), Ramiro Isaza (UF-Gainesville), and others have been working with Dr. Denise Sofranko (USDA-APHIS AC), Dr. Janet Payeur (NVSL), and Dr. Ray Waters (USDA-ADC) to obtain samples and investigate new diagnostic techniques in elephants.  The greatest obstacle to progress is the ability to obtain samples from TB-infected animals.  A request is made to the Elephant TAG/SSP Steering Committee to help solicit voluntary participation from owners/institutions holding elephants that have or have been treated for TB.  Please contact Michele Miller by email for additional information (email:
  7. Elephant Herpesvirus update – An updated list of EEHV cases was compiled by Dr. Richard Montali in February 2003 (see attachment).  Laura Richman has developed a serologic test (ELISA) for EEHV that will detect antibody titers in Asian elephants.  She will be ready to start receiving samples this fall.  Serum samples should be frozen at –70 C without any thawing, and positive results would indicate previous exposure.  Dr. Richman is also working on diagnostic tests for African elephants and a more sensitive PCR.  Please contact Dr. Laura Richman ( or Dr. Richard Montali ( for further information.
  8. A list of priorities for research was sent to the Steering Committee in May 2003.  This list is attached for reference.
  9. Veterinary pathology and reproductive update – information will be included in separate reports from these advisors.  There was one case in which an elephant calf underwent surgery for an intestinal impaction.  Unfortunately, the calf later died.  Other known deaths that occurred between September 2002 and July 2003 included 3 fetal deaths (2 African/1 Asian) that were retained by the dams (1 African and 1 Asian dam euthanized and died, respectively), 2 adult African cows (one euthanized for severe arthritis, one unknown), one 3-year-old Asian calf due to EEHV, and a 37 year-old Asian bull with septicemia.
  10. Encephalomyocarditis virus (EMCV) – Questions regarding transport and vaccination of elephants for EMCV resurfaced this year.  At this time, there is no available vaccination for EMCV in North America (the swine product has been discontinued).  An experimental vaccine has been produced in Australia and used successfully in a variety of zoo animals.  EMC is a sporadic disease that can result in fatal infection in elephants and a variety of other animals.  The virus is usually transmitted by rodents through contamination of food or exhibit.  Currently, EMCV antibody testing is not available.  There are no obvious contraindications for moving animals into institutions which have been affected by EMCV in the past.  Rodent control is the best available method of preventing the disease. Additional investigation is being done to determine if a vaccine will become available in the future. 
  11. Elephant serum bank – A centralized serum bank has been started at Disney’s Animal Kingdom for elephant SSP samples.  A few samples have arrived but additional samples are requested, especially from animals that become ill or die from any of the current diseases of concern (TB, EMC, EEHV, WNV, etc.).  This will permit future research in diagnostic test development and disease surveillance.  A sample submission form can be found in the Elephant Necropsy and Elephant Tissue Request Protocols.  Please contact Dr. Michele Miller (email: prior to sending samples.
  12. Future goals:
    1. Develop method for obtaining morbidity data on the SSP population that can be compiled annually and used to detect health concern trends.
    2. Continue to investigate WNV exposure to determine risk of exposure and disease, and develop vaccination recommendations.
    3. Continue to solicit samples for the serum bank, TB and EEHV diagnostic test development.



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