ArticlePDF Available

A case of rabies in an Indian Elephant Elephas maximus

B. Aravind 1, M. Anilkumar 2, S. Raju 3 and
M.R. Saseendranath 4
1 Senior Veterinary Surgeon, 3 Veterinary Surgeon, District Veterinary
Centre, Kollam, Kerala, India
2 Senior Veterinary Surgeon, Veterinary Hospital, Chavara, Kollam, Kerala,
4 Associate Professor and Head, Department of Veterinary Epidemiology
and Preventive Medicine, College of Veterinary and Animal Sciences,
Kerala Agricultural University, Mannuthy, Kerala, India
© Zoo Outreach Organisation;
Manuscript 1389; Received 30 June 2005; Finally accepted 09 December 2005; Date of publication 21 January 2006
2172 February 2006 | ISSN 0973-2535 (Print edition); 0973-2551 (Online edition)
The tusker captive elephant (named Hariprasad, aged 28 years)
belonging to the Minnamthottil temple, Chavara, Kollam district,
Kerala, southern India, was suffering from posterior paralysis.
The history revealed that the animal had an injury on his left
eye (an incised wound) inflicted by the mahouts on 2 March
2005. The local veterinarian surgically corrected it.
Postoperative antibiotic and anti inflammatory therapy was
given. The elephant started showing symptoms of paralysis in
the right hind limb on 14 March 2005. The animal was dragging
the right limb and showed severe difficulty in walking. He was
observed to lie down frequently and had difficulty in getting
up. On 15 March onward the animal had difficulty in bearing
weight on the left hind limb also. He started refusing food.
Urination and defecation decreased. On 16 March he started
showing behavioural changes as in musth and tried to attack
people with his trunk. There was slight temporal discharge
also. The hindquarter had become totally paralytic.
On 17 March, the veterinarian treating the elephant lifted the
animal and put him in slings using rope and crane, but the
attempts were futile. Penile edema was noticed in the evening,
but it was relieved once the animal was released from the slings.
Supportive therapy was given by administering fluids and
On 18 March 2005 the animal was lying in left lateral recumbency.
The mucous membrane was pale roseate. The rectal temperature
was subnormal (95.20F). The tail and hindquarters were totally
paralytic and flaccid. The respiration rate was low (26/min).
There was no food and water intake and the animal was
dehydrated and did not pass dung and urine. The animal was
not able to lift his head and trunk. A central nervous system
infection was suspected.
On 19 March the animal died at 1430hrs after showing symptoms
for five days.
The postmortem examination revealed no gross lesions in liver
and lungs. Epicardial haemorrhage was noticed. Petechial
haemorrhages were noticed in the intestinal mucous membrane.
Spleenomegally and meningeal congestion were noticed.
Samples were collected from brain, liver, kidney and spleen.
Blood smear examination did not reveal any bacterial or
haemoprotozoan infection. Since clinical signs were suggestive
of an infection of the central nervous system, fluorescent
antibody test (CDC, 2003) was done on brain tissues to rule out
rabies viral infection at the Rabies Diagnostic Unit at District
Veterinary Centre, Kollam. The sample was found positive for
rabies viral infection. The sample was sent to The Department
of Veterinary Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine at College
of Veterinary and Animal Sciences Mannuthy, Thrissur, Kerala
and was confirmed positive. Again the sample on PCR tests at
Indian Immunologicals, Hyderabad was found to be positive
for rabies.
Rabies is endemic in Kerala especially in Kollam district. This
is evident from the fact that about 30 per cent of the cases
presented at rabies diagnostic unit, Kollam, were positive for
rabies during the last four years. As far as Kerala is concerned,
from December to April is the festival season where a number
of elephants participate in processions. Usually the processions
end by late night and they traverse long distance to reach the
next place of 'duty' during the night hours. Sometimes they
may rest on the way. The chances of getting exposed to rabies
either through dog bite or cat bite are very high during the
night hours and may not be noticed by the mahouts.
Elephants usually get bitten either on the trunk or hind limbs.
During the last year one elephant was bitten on its trunk by a
stray dog and was given post exposure vaccination and did
not develop rabies. Because these elephants are always
tethered they are more prone to wounds on their hind limbs.
Hence the chances of transmission of rabies through lick from
a rabid animal are very high. The mahouts may not identify the
exposure. Further, the elephants are taken to forests for timber
work during the off-season where there is the possibility of
exposure to rabies from the wild population also. These facts
point out the necessity of prophylactic antirabies treatment
among captive elephant population.
The latest case of elephant rabies was reported from Sri Lanka
in 1998 wherein an adult (reported to be 84) became agressive,
restless and unsteady, with secretion from the temporal glands
(Wimalaratne & Kodikara, 1999). On the sixth day she was
partly blind and completely anorectic, trunk lame and was
constantly falling down. She died on the ninth day. Postmortem
examination showed brain being vascular and brain smear
positive for rabies antigen.
Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Viral and Rickettsial
Zoonoses Branch (VRZB) (2003). Protocol for postmortem diagnosis
of rabies in animals by direct fluorescent antibody testing, 22p.
Wimalaratne, O. and D.S. Kodikara (1999). First reported case of
Elephant rabies in Sri Lanka. Veterinary Record 144(4): 98.
Full-text available
To evaluate the humoral immune response of Asian elephants to a primary IM vaccination with either 1 or 2 doses of a commercially available inactivated rabies virus vaccine and evaluate the anamnestic response to a 1-dose booster vaccination. 16 captive Asian elephants. Elephants with no known prior rabies vaccinations were assigned into 2 treatment groups of 8 elephants; 1 group received 1 dose of vaccine, and the other group received 2 doses of vaccine 9 days apart. All elephants received one or two 4-mL IM injections of a monovalent inactivated rabies virus vaccine. Blood was collected prior to vaccination (day 0) and on days 9, 35, 112, and 344. All elephants received 1 booster dose of vaccine on day 344, and a final blood sample was taken 40 days later (day 384). Serum was tested for rabies virus-neutralizing antibodies by use of the rapid fluorescent focus inhibition test. All elephants were seronegative prior to vaccination. There were significant differences in the rabies geometric mean titers between the 2 elephant groups at days 35, 112, and 202. Both groups had a strong anamnestic response 40 days after the booster given at day 344. Results confirmed the ability of Asian elephants to develop a humoral immune response after vaccination with a commercially available monovalent inactivated rabies virus vaccine and the feasibility of instituting a rabies virus vaccination program for elephants that are in frequent contact with humans. A 2-dose series of rabies virus vaccine should provide an adequate antibody response in elephants, and annual boosters should maintain the antibody response in this species.
Protocol for postmortem diagnosis of rabies in animals by direct fluorescent antibody testing
Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Viral and Rickettsial Zoonoses Branch (VRZB) (2003). Protocol for postmortem diagnosis of rabies in animals by direct fluorescent antibody testing, 22p. Wimalaratne, O. and D.S. Kodikara (1999). First reported case of Elephant rabies in Sri Lanka. Veterinary Record 144(4): 98.