Source: Human strain TB in jumbos baffles scientists | The Herald August 3, 2019
Bongani Siziba Correspondent
On July 31, the world commemorated World Ranger Day set aside to remember rangers killed or injured in the line of duty.
The day, which also seeks to celebrate the critical work to protect the world’s natural and cultural treasures, comes at a time South Africa is still puzzled by how an elephant got human strain tuberculosis in 2016.
The Kruger National Park is continuously monitoring the possible spread of a human strain of TB after one elephant was killed in 2016 and tested positive for the disease.
It was the first case ever recorded in the park’s elephant population.
Since then, researchers have been conducting tests on elephants to see whether the infection has spread.
The elephant died at the Kruger National Park next to the road and vets moved quickly to investigate.
According to reports, the dead elephant was thin, and the first call was to check its teeth as this is the first point to verify an illness and the elephant’s teeth were okay.
However, after some tests it was found that the elephant had contracted TB from humans, leading to a research project being launched in South African National Parks (SANParks) in partnership with Stellenbosch University.
Tuberculosis (TB) in humans is a global public health concern and the discovery of animal cases of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) infection and disease, especially in multi-host settings, also has significant implications for public health, veterinary disease control, and conservation endeavours.
Doctor Peter Buss, Head of the SANParks Veterinary Services, said they did not yet know how the TB virus managed to get to an elephant.
He said they suspected the elephant could have consumed food or waste left behind in its territory.
“We found that the lungs were very badly affected,” said Dr Buss.
“About 80 percent of its lungs were not functional. We collected the necessary samples and took them to various laboratories.
“When the results came back, they confirmed that it was TB — but not bovine, but human TB.”
Prof Michell Miller from the University of Stellenbouch in South Africa said while bovine TB was common in several species in the wild, including elephants, the occurrence of human TB in wild animals was considered an anomaly.
“It is only the one case to date, so it’s actually very difficult for us to predict what may or may not happen,” he said.
“The big thinking is not as much a focus on the individual animal as it is on the population and also because TB is a multi-host disease, one that can move between species, there is a concern for other species, including humans, and the environment.”
The elephants that are tested are tracked and darted, and then have their trunks cleaned, lungs washed, and blood samples taken.
Since then, Prof Buss and a team of experts have taken samples from over 30 elephants trying to establish if there are other elephants that could have the human TB.
To continue with the routine, recently an elephant was darted with drugs at the Skukuza part of the park in Mpumalanga in order to take samples for lab testing as part of this research.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe and Mozambique are two countries in Southern Africa that have huge tourist potential which is a central pillar in their economies.
Zimbabwe, for instance, is visually spectacular with abundant wildlife and star attractions such as the Victoria Falls, Hwange, Mana Pools and Gonarezhou National Parks and Great Zimbabwe, while Mozambique enjoys its wildlife at Gorongosa and Banhire National parks, among others.
In celebration of the World Rangers Day, South Africa National Parks has hailed these two countries for their contributions in wildlife.
Speaking at the Kruger National Park ahead of the day, general manager of communications and marketing, Mr Ike Phahla said, “We fully do understand the challenges that our counterparts have when it comes to resources, but when it comes to giving our scientist access we are very happy with the co-operation we getting from both countries, whether its anti-poaching or conservation issues.”
On the ongoing human wildlife crisis in Botswana, Phahla said Botswana is yet to ask for assistance.
“We do not have anything that has come out as a formal request from Botswana to assist them with their elephants,” he said.