Mycobacterium tuberculosis in zoo and wildlife species

Rev Sci Tech. 2001 Apr;20(1):291-303. doi: 10.20506/rst.20.1.1268.


Tuberculosis caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis and M. tuberculosis-like organisms has been identified in a wide range of species, including non-human primates, elephants and other exotic ungulates, carnivores, marine mammals and psittacine birds. Disease associated with M. tuberculosis has occurred mostly within captive settings and does not appear to occur naturally in free-living mammals. Mycobacterium tuberculosis probably originated as an infection of humans, but from the zoonotic standpoint, non-human primates, Asian elephants and psittacine birds have the potential to transmit this disease to humans. However, the overall prevalence of disease in these susceptible species is low and documented transmissions of M. tuberculosis between animals and humans are uncommon. Mycobacterium tuberculosis causes progressive pulmonary disease in mammals and a muco-cutaneous disease in parrots. In all cases, the disease can disseminate and be shed into the environment. Diagnosis in living animals is based on intradermal tuberculin testing in non-human primates, culturing trunk secretions in elephants, and biopsy and culture of external lesions in parrots. Ancillary testing with deoxyribonucleic acid probes and nucleic acid amplification, and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays have been adapted to some of these species with promising results. Additionally, new guidelines for controlling tuberculosis in elephants in the United States of America, and programmes for tuberculosis prevention in animal handlers have been established.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Wild*
  • Animals, Zoo*
  • Bird Diseases / prevention & control
  • Bird Diseases / transmission
  • Elephants
  • Humans
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / genetics
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / immunology
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / isolation & purification*
  • Prevalence
  • Primate Diseases / prevention & control
  • Primate Diseases / transmission
  • Primates
  • Psittaciformes
  • Tuberculosis / diagnosis
  • Tuberculosis / epidemiology
  • Tuberculosis / transmission
  • Tuberculosis / veterinary*
  • Zoonoses