TOPSHAM, Maine — An elephant traveling with the Piccadilly Circus, which is now in Topsham, was barred entrance to the state after a positive test for tuberculosis.
State Veterinarian Don Hoenig, who oversees elephant importations into Maine, said Topsy the elephant was in Massachusetts last week when the state received an application for her and another elephant, Annette, to come to Maine with the circus. But routine testing on the elephants, who are handled by Franklin Murray, revealed the presence of tuberculosis antibodies in Topsy, which prompted Hoenig to bar its entrance.
“The other elephant would have been eligible,” he said. “Frank decided on his own not to bring either of them. According to the guidelines that we’re using, elephants that are reactive on two blood tests are not eligible to travel interstate until they’ve been tested quarterly for a year.”
Hoenig said the issue of elephants in Maine has kept him busy in recent months. He also is overseeing the transfer of two elephants to the town of Hope which are being brought to a new rehabilitation center there later this year by a nonprofit organization called Hope Elephants.
Hoenig said tuberculosis is common in elephants — of the 450 elephants in the United States, 55 of them test positive for TB — and in some cases the disease can be passed to humans. In 2009, he said, nine people contracted the disease from elephants at an animal sanctuary.
Elephants can be infected with both the human and bovine form of TB. The disease is spread through the air on infected droplets when an infected person or animal sneezes, coughs, or sprays in the case of elephants, according to Elephant Care International. “Captive elephants can get TB by inhaling infected droplets from infected humans, cattle, or other infected elephants,” according to the group’s website. “Elephant to elephant transmission may occur when one elephant places it trunk inside another elephant’s mouth, which is a common practice for elephants.”
The disease has not been reported in wild elephants, the group said.
A gatekeeper at the Piccadilly Circus, who declined to identify himself, confirmed Thursday afternoon that neither Murray nor the elephants were present.
Murray is accused of animal cruelty, according to the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which is a law enforcement agency in that state.
Neither Murray nor anyone from the circus could be reached for comment.
Hoenig said that allegation had nothing to do with the reasons the elephants were not allowed into the state of Maine.