5 Bacterial Diseases in Elephants

There are many bacterial diseases that affect elephants, both in the wild and in captivity.
5 Bacterial Diseases in Elephants
Érica Terrón González

Written and verified by the vet Érica Terrón González.

Last update: 22 December, 2022

Have you ever thought about bacterial diseases in elephants? Do you think these could affect other species? Below, we’ll tell you more.

Elephants are strong and live for a long time, but they can still get sick. 

Tuberculosis: bacterial diseases in elephants

Tuberculosis is a common bacterial infection that affects almost all animal species, such as primates, cattle, rhinos, elephants and birds.

The first case of tuberculosis in African elephants dates from 1962.

A sick elephant.


A micro bacterium from Mycobacterium tuberculosis causes it. Human beings and cattle are natural reservoirs.

Symptoms and how it is transferred

It’s transferred by eating or breathing in bioaerosols (dust mites, skin or hair cells, pollen, fungal spores, etc.). When it comes to elephants, this happens when their trunk makes contact with another species.

Elephant friends.
Only animals with an active disease can contract tuberculosis.

Elephants don’t often show clear symptoms. Weight loss, anorexia and chronic weakness is noticeable, as well as a lack of energy. Another symptom is abnormal nasal discharge from the trunk.

Staff safety

It’s a serious and highly infectious disease. Therefore, the staff need to take the necessary steps to prevent it. They need to use specialized masks, gloves, and suits whilst dealing with sick animals. This is in addition to standard hygiene, especially washing their hands.

Anthrax: another bacterial disease in elephants

Anthrax is an acute feverish illness. It affects most domestic and wild mammals, as well as birds. It affects elephants that live in the wild more than those that live in zoos.


Anthrax bacterium causes this. It produces very resistant spores in the environment. Ingesting these spores is what causes this infection. They enter the respiratory system, the intestine, etc., then spread throughout the body.

The severity of this disease occurs when the spores act as exotoxins. This affects clotting cascade and causes bleeding.

Symptoms and how it is transferred

There are many ways it can infect elephants. Flies and mosquitoes can carry it, and they can contaminate wounds or inject the bacteria. Other infected animals can excrete it, and this will then contaminate grass and water.

A respiratory infection can cause pneumonia and other respiratory issues. Eating the bacteria causes diarrhea. It can also cause neural damage leading to paralysis and seizures.


Salmonellosis is generally food poisoning. It occasionally causes diseases such as sepsis. The bacteria that causes it is Salmonella spp.

Symptoms and how it’s transferred

Salmonella sticks to the gastrointestinal tract of the animal which then acts as a reservoir. Animals will excrete it, which then contaminates the environment. Therefore, it can be transferred fecal-orally.

Infected elephants can suffer from anorexia, stomach cramp, and diarrhea. Sepsis can appear in serious cases.

A elephant eating grass.


A group of diseases caused by E.coli causes this. Some create tissue infections while others create an overeating disease. However, E.coli is part of the normal intestinal flora of animals.

Symptoms and how it’s transferred

It can be transferred fecal-orally but may vary:

  • Some strains cause diarrhea from overeating
  • Others cause a disease that invades tissues and causes sepsis


Mycoplasmosis is a serous membrane and mucous infection which can cause autoimmune disease.

Mycoplasma spp. causes this, as well as urinary tract infections. It’s also transferred when the animal eats food or drinks water that’s contaminated with the urine of sick animals.

Diagnose it early

So, many bacterial diseases can put an elephant’s health at risk. They need to be treated as soon as the first symptoms are spotted.

Therefore, good veterinary care from the start will go a long way to help them recover.

It might interest you...
Interesting Facts About the Behavior of Wild Elephants
My Animals
Read it in My Animals
Interesting Facts About the Behavior of Wild Elephants

Every animal species displays differed characteristics when they're in a favorable environment.Today we'll look at the behavior of wild elephants.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Fowler M, Mikota S. Biology, Medicine, and Surgery of Elephants. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons; 2008

The contents of My Animals are written for informational purposes. They can't replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment from a professional. In the case of any doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.