KARACHI: Madhubala — an 18-year-old elephant now in solitary confinement at the zoo after losing her partner Noor Jehan in one of the most painful ways last month — suffers from a potentially fatal infection, sources told Dawn on Saturday.
The infection, they said, was detected in blood samples analysed by a team of experts at the University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences (UVAS), Lahore.
Both Noor Jehan and Madhubala, along with a pair of elephants currently housed at the Safari Park, were brought together to Karachi 14 years ago from Tanzania where they were caught and separated from their mother at a very young age.
“She seemed to have caught the infection from Noor Jehan whose postmortem analysis indicated that she had the same disease, apart from other serious health complications,” disclosed a zoo official, requesting anonymity.
It was the first time in decades that detailed blood analysis of any animal was carried out at the zoo, he added.
“Madhubala has recently received some treatment as well for the illness that has reached an advanced stage in Noor Jehan, who underwent a major surgery for a chronic tusk infection last year and, months later, for another illness that left her partially paralysed. Both treatments were provided by Four Paws, an international animal welfare group.”
While the recent report of Noor Jehan’s post-mortem examination doesn’t declare cause of her death, it does indicate that the elephant had serious health complications, including bacterial and parasitic infections (Anaplasmosis and Trypanosomiasis). One spreads by tick bites and the other is transmitted by tsetse fly. The blood parasitic infection, sources said, was potentially fatal, if not treated in time and with the right medicines.
“Now, the same germs have been found to infect Madhubala. Unlike Noor Jehan, however, she is lucky in that she has received some treatment before disease reaches an advanced stage,” an official said, pointing out that the elephants were a victim of prolonged neglect.
Sources said experts in Noor Jehan’s autopsy report had recommended immediate disinfection of their enclosure and screening of other animals.
“If one animal dies of blood parasite problem, it can be expected that biting flies might have been injected into many other hosts during this time line. The animals that are showing loss of body condition, loss of weight and are showing emaciation, are most probably the ones that can have blood parasites, they must also be screened,” says the report.
‘No specific disease’
Zoo director Kanwar Ayub stated that Madhubala had received medication but “for the purpose of disease prevention”.
Asked about her ailment, Mr Ayub said she had no specific disease. “There were concerns over her health following Noor Jehan’s death for which we were advised to take preventive steps,” he said, adding that the staff had sent her blood samples for analysis to UVAS after giving her preventive medicines.
The zoo administration, he pointed out, hadn’t yet received reports of the blood samples taken from the big cats for analysis.
Published in Dawn, May 21st, 2023