Approximately 54 elephants were tested for human tuberculosis (TB) across the Kruger National Park after an adult bull was found dead because of the disease back in 2016.

This paved way for the park to extend its testing for TB to other animal species and over the past week, KNP, immobilized and darted a young bull elephant from a helicopter in order to test the animal for the disease.

Veterinary senior manager in Kruger National Park’s Veterinary Wildlife Services, Dr. Peter Buss, told Bulletin that in 2016 they found a dead elephant and the post-mortem revealed the cause of death as human TB.

“That was totally unexpected and as a result we set up this project to look at other elephants just to see if it was one isolated incident or there was a bigger problem than we thought.”

The park stated that they would extend their testing to other animals since a large study was conducted on a free-ranging population of rhino which revealed that one in every seven rhinos in the South African National Park was infected with Mycobacterium bovis (M. Bovis), the pathogen that causes bovine tuberculosis (bTB).

“The rhinos are being exposed to the organism, they are mounting an immune response, but they are not getting sick and dying from it,” he said.

“The same applies to other species. For example, we know that we get TB in our lions, and that individuals will die of the disease. But if you look at the population level of the disease, lions seem to be doing fine and their numbers have remained fairly static.”

The study which was conducted by Stellenbosch University (SU) Animal Tuberculosis Research Group, South African National Parks (SANParks) Veterinary Wildlife Services, and San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance tested samples from about 437 rhinos, collected from 2016 to 2020 in the Kruger National Park.