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Anthrax is an ongoing problem all over the world and frequently appears on Promed listserv newsletters. Most often the story concerns a group of people who have eaten a carcass of a dead animal. The consequences are deadly. A story from India’s state of Kerala has a different twist. It concerns the burial of an elephant that was thought to have died of this nasty disease. The elephant’s name was Unnikrishnan, and it belonged to a saw mill owner in Perumbavoor.
Simple burial is simply the wrong way to deal with any animal that has died of anthrax because the bacterium that causes the disease is one of the hardiest life forms known and can persist in the soil for enormous (but unknown) lengths of time as a spore.
There is a safe way to bury anthrax carcasses, and that involves using lime and digging down so that the body is at least six feet deep. For an elephant that would no doubt mean that the bottom of the hole has to be ten or twelve feet deep.
In this case the story gets even uglier because the elephant was buried, near the Muvattupuzha river and could therefore pose a threat a source of potable water in the district.
In some elephant camps in India and elsewhere there is a routine preventive program that involves regular vaccination. Witness this picture of Dr. Carlyle Jaganathan holding a syringe and waiting for a working elephant to lie down so that he could vaccinate it. I witnessed this event twenty years ago in Mudumalai NP that lies between Kerala and Kamataka states. What I was could not document was the animal’s objection to the needle. I am sure she knew what was coming and even as Dr. Jaganathan inserted the needle into the fold of skin under her tail she started to try and get up. Her mahout prevented that and the injection was administered without further ado.