The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee Statement on TB

In response to a Journal report released Wednesday, Feb. 16, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding Tuberculosis, The Elephant Sanctuary would like to offer the following important information.

The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee workers who were exposed to TB in 2009 have not been infected with the disease. They tested positive on a skin test, indicating their exposure, are receiving preventive treatment, and are not sick or hazardous to others.

Because so many of our elephant herd were known to have been exposed to tuberculosis before arriving at the Sanctuary, TB has been an obvious concern. Its presence is a factor we have to deal with in providing a safe, secure habitat for our elephants and caregivers.

Caring for sick, old, traumatized or mistreated elephants is what we do. So no one should be surprised that some of our Sanctuary's beloved inhabitants have chronic diseases or conditions.

The Sanctuary is greatly advancing the science of treating tuberculosis in elephants. The problem is widespread among captive elephants. Our hope is to become a model program--not only for the management of the disease in an elephant population, but for the protection of their caregivers.

To a certain extent, we knew what we were getting into when we accepted elephants who had tuberculosis, or who had been exposed to it. But veterinary science didn't know everything about the potential transmittal risks between elephants and humans – no one did. We have kept those elephants in quarantine and work closely with our veterinarians to develop effective treatments. It is an ongoing learning experience--and the subject of tremendous effort on the part of our veterinarians and staff.

In collaboration with the Tennessee Department of Health, we are currently doing a better job of protecting our staff from exposure to TB, and have formalized and strengthened our infection control and personal protection procedures. Tuberculosis, when it is in an active stage, can spread from elephants to humans. The Sanctuary has very strict policies on personal protective equipment that should be used when performing certain chores that might expose caregivers to tuberculosis. We are communicating our findings to the elephant care community across the country.

Our mission is to provide a peaceful, safe, natural habitat for the magnificent animals we love, hopefully helping them to "just be elephants" again—or perhaps for the first time—after a lifetime of living in a zoo or performing in a circus.

William Schaffner, MD
The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee