Jewell (Photo: Susan Altrui, Little Roxk Zoo)
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - An animal autopsy, known as a necropsy, revealed that a Little Rock Zoo elephant had tuberculosis when she died.
Asian elephant Jewell had been living at the Little Rock Zoo since 2011. She was put down a few weeks ago after suffering from a severe case of arthritis. While the 62-year-old animal had a non-active form of tuberculosis (TB) in her lungs, the zoo insists that it had nothing to do with her death.
"Elephants are prone to getting tuberculosis," said Dr. Sue Weinstein. "They're susceptible to the same kind of tuberculosis that people get.
The health department's main concern was testing the zoo keepers who had direct and long-term contact with the elephant. In Defense of Animals (IDA), a California animal rights group, has called for the zoo's other elephant, Zina, to be moved to another facility.
"The inadequate and unnatural conditions at the Little Rock Zoo have contributed to the suffering of elephants for far too long," said Nicole Meyer, IDA Director of the Elephant Protection Campaign. "Now that TB is in the mix, the risk this presents to any additional elephants who might be brought in would be unconscionable."
But, Little Rock Zoo's director of development, Susan Altrui said IDA is a radical group that tends to speak in extremes, and she said because tuberculosis is common in elephants, it's hard to pinpoint when Jewell actually contracted the disease. Both Jewell and Zina came to the Little Rock Zoo from travelling circuses.
The health department said there is a clear difference between latent and active tuberculosis.
"If the disease is shedding, then we know that it's active, but according to our vet, it didn't appear that the disease was shedding," said Altrui.
The zoo washes its elephants' trunks four times a year as a routine part of their health care check-ups. Both Weinstein and Altrui agree that Jewell's TB did not pose a risk to the public because there has to be physical contact for transmission.