To eliminate the fears, scientists at the country’s main national park were conducting tests on the animals.
On Wednesday, a team led by Professor Michele Miller from Stellenbosch University conducted tests on a young elephant.
Miller said they were hoping to sporadically test between 60 and 70 elephants in the park.
“We just opportunistically found it (disease) on an elephant that had recently died,” said Miller. “We conducted an examination on him and we were able to identify the bacteria, which is human TB.”
This was the first case of human TB bacteria in the park, she said. Only the bovine TB had been documented in various species in Kruger National Park before this case.
“Human TB in elephants has been documented in captive elephants in zoos around the world. Most recently it has been found in wild animals in India,” Miller said.
Human TB in animals appeared to be an emerging disease, she said.
“TB is something we are trying to figure out; what the impact is on both the individual or the population. We don’t know if they can get infected and maybe cleared like people,” she added.
The science research team was at its infant stages of understanding how wildlife species were contracting the disease.
“In terms of transmission, although we think human TB is a respiratory disease (inhaling the bacteria and becoming infected), we don’t think an elephant would be in close contact with a human and be able to inhale the bacteria,” she said.
“But if a human contaminated some material where there was food discarded or material an elephant was exploring in their environment with their trunk. We are speculating, we don’t know for sure at this point.”
Regarding the tests, Miller said the team would be unable to test the park’s elephant population but would target those in its southern region.
“The southern part of the park is at greater risk to exposure to human TB from visitors.
Our goal is to test a number of elephants here (southern region), hopefully about 60 and 70,” she said.
This, she added, “would give us an idea if we find several animals which indicate that there’s a higher prevalence and it’s a concern.
“If we don’t find any other cases, then it would mean it was just a sporadic case, and it’s less of a concern.