Six elephants die of haemorrhagic septicaemia in a fortnight in Odisha’s Karlapat Sanctuary

All bodies were found along the Ghusurigudi nullah, leading experts to think the water is contaminated
Six elephants die of haemorrhagic septicaemia in a fortnight in Odisha’s Karlapat Sanctuary

Six elephants died of haemorrhagic septicaemia in Karlapat Wildlife Sanctuary in Odisha’s Kalahandi district in the last 14 days, according to the forest department. The carcass of a female elephant spotted near Ghusurigudi nullah within the sanctuary on February 14 was the latest case.

The body has been sent for autopsy, said Sudipta Dash, regional chief conservator of forest, Kalahandi.

The first death was reported on February 1 near Tentulipada village inside the sanctuary, close to Ghusurigudi nullah. The same day, another body was found along the same canal and three more on February 8, 9 and 11 at the same spot. The pattern has led experts to suspect that the water there is contaminated with the bacteria Pasteurella multocida that cause the disease. 

A team of experts of Odisha University of Agriculture and Technology (OUAT) who examined the elephants post mortem, found haemorrhagic septicaemia as the reason behind the deaths of jumbos. 

Haemorrhagic septicaemia is a contagious bacterial disease which infects animals that come in contact with contaminated water or soil, said Indramani Nath, a veterinarian from OUAT. The respiratory tract and lungs of the animals are affected, leading to severe pneumonia. The disease generally spreads in the period right before and after the monsoons, said Nath. It can affect cattle, buffalo and other animals. 

The incidents have shocked wildlife enthusiasts across the country. Last year, around 40 buffaloes had succumbed to the infection in Odisha’s Kendrapara.

He added that the water samples from the sanctuary have been sent for tests at the Centre for Wildlife Health, OUAT, Bhubaneswar and stagnant water has been treated with bleaching powder as a precautionary measure.

The forest department is likely to instal cameras to investigate the deaths, said T Ashok Kumar, district forest officer, Kalahandi (south) division.  

“Around 20 elephants in two herds were roaming inside the sanctuary. We have deployed 80 field officials to keep the heard separated and away from the Ghusurigudi nullah water body,” 

Villagers have been advised not to bring their cattle inside the sanctuary while the forest officials analyse the water bodies for contamination, said the DFO.

OUAT, in collaboration with the sanctuary officials, has started an immunisation drive of cattle in Karlapat, Badtikraguda, Tentulipadar, Lilingpadar and Jakam villages adjoining the wildlife sanctuary. 

Haemorrhagic septicaemia occurs in parts of Asia and Africa and is often fatal. It can be transmitted by ingesting contaminated food and water or through respiratory secretions. Although it is early, scientists are of the view that climate change pressure elephant populations as water supplies diminish and temperature rise, potentially increasing the risk of pathogen outbreaks in the future.

Karlapat sanctuary is spread over an area of 175 square km in Odisha’s Kalahandi district. Karlapat wildlife sanctuary home to tigers, leopards, sambars, nilgais, barking deer, mouse deer and a wide variety of birds like green munia, great eared-nightjar and various reptiles, apart from elephants.

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