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FAQ: Tuberculosis in Elephants

Albert, an Asian elephant, recently tested positive for tuberculosis (TB). The BioPark’s animal care staff caught it early, and Albert’s prognosis is good. This FAQ may help answer any questions you may have. We will update this page as Albert continues in his treatment.


  • The BioPark animal care team detected tuberculosis (TB) in Albert, our male elephant, through routine, preventative diagnostic testing. He is not showing any symptoms.
  • Early detection is an important part of providing excellent animal wellness programs.
  • TB is not uncommon, which is why the BioPark routinely tests for it. About 25 percent of the global human population is estimated to have been infected by the bacteria.
  • The BioPark team has successfully treated elephants with the infection in the past, and we have procedures in place to do so again.
  • BioPark staff are taking appropriate precautions while providing Albert with exceptional care.
  • There is no concern related to public exposure.


How did the BioPark learn Albert had TB?

Testing for TB and other conditions is a normal part of the BioPark elephant herd’s preventative health care protocol. When Albert’s routine blood work showed abnormalities, BioPark veterinary staff ran multiple tests to investigate the abnormalities. They also did a trunk wash to collect fluid from Albert’s trunk to be tested in a lab. These tests confirmed that Albert was positive for TB disease.


What is a trunk wash?

A trunk wash is a method of collecting fluids to be cultured for traces of TB bacteria, and it is part of the BioPark elephant herd’s normal care. The elephants are trained to voluntarily participate in a trunk wash, which involves sucking a saline solution into their trunk as if they were drinking, and then blowing the fluid back out into a collection bag. The contents of the bag are then tested in multiple ways to detect all possible traces of TB bacteria.

Watch Rozie participate in a trunk wash.


Does the BioPark have experience treating elephants with TB?

Yes. The BioPark has previous experience successfully treating TB in elephants. When Irene, now 56, was rescued by the BioPark in 1998, she carried a latent TB infection that became active and caused TB disease in 2000. In 2010, Alice tested positive for the same strain of TB, so both she and Irene were treated again. Both Irene and Alice have tested negative for the disease since 2012.


How is TB spread?

TB is spread by bacteria from the lungs that get into the air. Individuals nearby who breathe in the air may become infected. TB is typically transmitted between individuals with prolonged close contact. More information can be found on the US Centers for Disease Control website:


What is a latent TB infection?

The bacteria that cause TB can remain in the body as a latent infection for decades. During this latent phase, the bacteria cannot be spread. It is not known what causes latent bacteria to become active.


How did Albert get TB?

It is likely that Albert had a latent TB infection that became active and caused TB disease. DNA sequencing will determine if Albert’s disease was caused by the same strain of bacteria that infected Irene and Alice. It will take a few weeks for that lab work to be completed.


Can Albert give TB to other elephants?

TB is spread between elephants when bacteria from an infected elephant gets into the air. TB is typically transmitted between elephants with prolonged close contact. Contact with the other elephants was restricted immediately after it was suspected that Albert had the disease. The entire herd has since been tested, and results are pending. These lab results typically take about six weeks.


Can Albert give TB to humans?

TB could potentially be transferred from Albert to humans but typically only in instances in which there is exposure within close proximity over a long period of time. The limited number of BioPark staff who fall into this category are being tested, and depending on results, will be treated. Enhanced safety measures were also immediately initiated to ensure everyone’s health and well-being. 


Can humans give TB to elephants?

Elephants have been known to test positive for the human strain of TB in other zoos and in the wild. Irene was infected with TB by a human before she was rescued by the BioPark in 1998.


What is the treatment regimen for Albert?

The BioPark’s veterinary team is working with elephant tuberculosis experts to develop a comprehensive antibiotic treatment tailored to Albert’s strain of bacteria.


What should guests expect to see while Albert is being treated?

Albert will still be visible in his habitat.The antibiotics that treat TB may cause significant weight loss, a loss of appetite, sensitivity to sunlight and reduced activity. The entire course of treatment may take 12-18 months, during which time Albert will be closely monitored by his caretakers and veterinarians. Guests may see Albert getting his favorite foods and treats or wearing sunscreen on his ears. After a certain point in the treatment, Albert’s disease will no longer be contagious, and he will have the choice to interact safely with other elephants in the herd. 


Can BioPark guests get TB from visiting the elephant habitat?

No. Albert does not get close enough to guests to spread the bacteria to the air guests breathe. Albert’s barn is no longer included as part of behind-the-scenes tours as an extra safety precaution. Tour guests who visited Albert’s barn in the past are not at risk because they did not come in close contact with Albert.


Has ABQ BioPark staff been tested for TB?

Yes. TB testing is part of our normal protocol for all staff who work in animal areas. Staff who may have been exposed to Albert or his barn are being retested as an extra precaution.


How common is TB?

The World Health Organization estimates that 25% of the world’s human population has been infected with TB bacteria. Tuberculosis disease is often curable and is typically treated with antibiotics.


Do wild elephants get TB?

Yes. Humans and Asian elephants have lived closely with one another in range countries for thousands of years. This is likely how elephants first became exposed to this human disease, which was then spread among wild populations.


How is the BioPark going to prevent future TB disease in its herd?

TB is a naturally occurring bacteria that is found worldwide. Regular testing, early detection and treatment is the most effective and appropriate way to manage this disease. 


If an elephant gets TB disease once, can they get it again?

Yes, but it is unlikely. Infection from a different strain of TB is possible following treatment. Factors associated with recurrence are not well understood and are part of ongoing medical studies globally. This is why regular testing of staff and elephants for the presence of TB - even when there are no signs or symptoms - is so important and is part of routine BioPark preventative care protocols.  


Is TB related to EEHV (elephant endotheliotropic herpes virus)?

No. TB is caused by bacteria. EEHV is caused by a virus. These are two different microorganisms that impact an elephant’s body in very different ways.