Two elephants, Baby and Nepal — two former circus elephants that a French zoo was planning to euthanize after they tested positive for tuberculosis — will instead be spending the rest of their days on an estate on the Cote d’Azur owned by the royal family of Monaco.
Yes, that is quite a change of fortune!
The Tete d’Or zoo in Lyon had found itself at the center of a huge public outcry after announcing last year that it would euthanize Baby and Nepal, aged 42 and 43, out of concerns that they might infect other animals.
Baby and Nepal had been entrusted to the Lyon zoo since 1999, after working for years with the Pinder Circus. They tested positive for tuberculosis in 2010 and were quarantined in January of 2011, along with Java, another elephant who had tested positive for the disease. Java died in August of 2012; after an autopsy, French officials said that tuberculosis was the cause of her death. The next day, the prefect of the Rhône region, Jean-François Carenco, signed a decree calling on the city of Lyon to euthanize Baby and Nepal within 30 days, out of fears for public health.
French actress Brigitte Bardot led the campaign to save the two elephants, threatening in January to apply for Russian citizenship if they were euthanized. About 200 people formed a human chain around the elephants’ enclosure “to save Baby and Nepal” and Monaco’s Princess Stephanie condemned the decision to kill them as “radical and irreversible.”
In February, France’s Supreme Administrative Court put a stop to the euthanasia of the elephants, on the grounds that there was “substantial doubt” about the legality of doing so, says German newspaper Der Spiegel.
Princess Stephanie then offered to take in Baby and Nepal and last week they boarded an air-conditioned trailer bound for the Roc Agel ranch, an estate owned by the Monaco royal family in southeastern France. The elephants’ new home is a nearly one-acre enclosure with a pool and wooden shed. A veterinarian who accompanied them on their journey said that, upon arrival, they showed signs of “well-being,” showering themselves with dust and humming softly.
Life in an enclosure in France is not exactly giving the elephants the freedom would have were they to be released in the wild. But certainly it is a relief to know that Baby and Nepal will not be needlessly killed. The call to euthanize them shows a real contrast between how some zoos in Europe and some in the U.S. address disease in animals.
A 30-year-old Asian elephant, Rama, is currently being treated for tuberculosis after testing positive for the disease at the Oregon Zoo in Portland. This zoo tests all the elephants for tuberculosis routinely by taking a trunk culture in the form of fluid from the animal’s trunk that is then sent to a certified lab to be analyzed.
After Rama tested positive for tuberculosis, the zoo has set about treating him and making sure that any humans he might have encountered or might encounter are safe. As the Oregon Zoo relates, the zoo has contacted public health authorities and veterinarians at the Oregon Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture; it is working with them to determine the most effective course of treatment for Rama as well as safety protocols.
Behind-the-scenes tours in the elephant’s facilities have been suspended and staff must wear face masks when working in elephant areas. Rama has been quarantined and is being monitored by zoo staff, with more trunk cultures taken as well as blood tests.
In humans, tuberculosis is transmitted through the air from one person to another, when they cough, sneeze or speak. A number of elephants in zoos (and also in the wild) have indeed tested positive for tuberculosis. No other of the Oregon Zoo’s elephants have tested positive for tuberculosis and, so far, the safety precautions that the zoo has put into place seem likely to prevent the disease from spreading. It is not yet known how Rama became infected or who he might have caught the disease from.
Tuberculosis is “typically a very manageable disease. Rama has shown no signs of illness, and we’re hopeful that with the proper treatment he never will,” Dr. Mitch Finnegan, the zoo’s lead veterinarian, says. There is indeed a ”stark difference between certain American zoos, where elephants are treated for tuberculosis, and the attitude in Europe, where experts advise against treatment,” as Marc Artois, a professor of infectious diseases at Lyon’s veterinary school, VetAgro Sup, comments.
As tuberculosis can be treated in elephants, the Lyon zoo’s intention of euthanizing Baby and Nepal stands out as all the more inhumane. The fact that the two elephants are now free from such a fate is all the more heartening.
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