Elephant Pox

Definition of Elephant Pox
(Scientific name: Orthopoxvirus bovis)

From the elephant glossary Section: disease

Elephant Pox in Liberec Zoo, 1972
Elephant Pox in Liberec Zoo, 1972

Relevant Literature about Elephant Pox
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Elephant pox seems actually be a strain of normal cow pox, and is one of the most dangerous diseases for elephants. Most often, it is spread to the elephants from rodents, and is closely related to Rodent Pox Virus.

It is lethal, and was until vaccination programmes, responsible for the death of many elephants. (Kuntze and Janetzky, 1982; Pade et al., 1990).

From Biology, Medicine, and Surgery of Elephants, 2006 by Murray Fowler, Susan K. Mikota

There was 22 outbreaks in European Zoos between 1960 and 1986.

Biology, Medicine, and Surgery of Elephants, 2006 by Murray Fowler, Susan K. Mikota

Even when treated, an infection leads to an enormous suffer for the elephants, and should be avoided at any prize.

Records about Elephant Pox from the Gone Astray: Elephant care manual for Mahouts and camp managers (Thailand)

Elephant pox is a serious, infectious viral disease that has a history of being epidemic. (Out of 18 elephants in a European circus, 11 became infected and one died.) Elephant pox, which is related to the human disease smallpox, can be contracted by humans. Asian elephants are more susceptible to pox virus infection than are African elephants.

Wild rodents are suspected of being the reservoir of elephant pox virus. It seems that there has never been a case of elephant pox in Thailand, but the disease has been reported in Myanmar.

Path of infection: Elephant pox is contracted, both by elephants and humans, by direct contact with the sores or mucous of an infected elephant.

Clinical signs:

The first clinical signs of elephant pox are difficult to detect.

A high fever may be present and the elephant show problems of swallowing certain foods or liquids (dysphagia).

The elephant may become lame.

Conjungtivitis and membranes of the eye become infected and swollen.

Later, the elephant develops pustules on the skin on the front of the head and on the Trunk. These may spread over the whole body. The pustules may rupture and discharge a clear, bloody or purulent fluid. Later, they become dry and crusty and finally unpigmented scars.

Seeping from the temporal gland - in both sexes - is a fluid that is either clear or with a milky colour; this fluid smells rotten and is not like the musty, sour smell of the normal secretion of Musth males.

The mouth has sores that make swallowing difficult.

A serious secondary complication of elephant pox is undermining of the nails and soles, which can produce fatal complications.


Immediately separate the elephant from other animals in the Herd.
Take the elephant

Elephant care manual for Mahouts and camp managers, Preecha Phuangkum, Richard C. Lair and Taweepoke Angkawanith

Several outbreaks were recorded from european Zoos during 1900, listed by Pilaski in 1989 and modified 1993 (external link): (Berlin 1960 and 1961, Leipzig Zoo 1960, Erfurt Zoo 1962, Magdeburg Zoo: 1971 and 1990, Liberec Zoo 1972, Amsterdam 1973, Laxenburg-Wien 1974, Ansbach 1975, Lodz 1977, Speyer 1979, Reutlingen 1979 and 1980, Hammeln 1980, Hamburg 1984, Berlin-Spandau 1986, Erfurt 1988, Wuppertal 1989, Dresden Zoo 1990, Erfurt 2000, Hannover 2001), the last ones possibly with origin from circuses, and since the elephants at european circuses are still not enough veterinary monitored, they may remain as a potential infection spreader.

The elephant Gauri in Liberec Zoo wearing shoes during elephant pox 1972
The elephant Gauri in Liberec Zoo wearing Elephant shoes during elephant pox 1972

The second latest recorded infection in Europe was:
  • 2000 in Erfurt; Germany, where 2 Adult asian elephants Peggy and Monty on the small Circus Baldini, was infected with cow pox.
    The owner were still performing with the infected animals in the ring, hiding the ulcus with silver color bandages, when a vet passed by and saw the elephants one day, just by ocassion.
    The Smallpox has reached a level that the elephants had to be euthanized. (Hinke, 2000)

Circus Baldini elephant with elephant pox, 2000.
Circus Baldini elephant with elephant pox, 2000.

The latest recorded infection in Europe was:
  • February 2023 in Stukenbrock; Germany, where 1 Adult African elephant Didi in Stukenbrock Safaripark , was infected with cow pox.

    Didi was isolated from the other elephants and recieved a 24/7 emergancy treatment.


  • Zoonotic potential
  • Mainly known from Asian elephants in European zoos
  • Can be transmitted by rodents
  • Animals are lame, have dysphagia
  • Vesicles progressing to ulcers on face, Trunk, perineum, mouth, soles and nails
  • Heal with depigmented scars

In Europe, information about the pox, as well as vaccine, can be obtained from:

Institut for Medical Microbiology

Infectious and Epidemic Diseases

Veterinärstrasse 13

D-80539 München


Fax: +49 89 2180

14 Elephants associated with elephant smallpox.

Index Sex Species Name Id Origin Arrival Location
1† ♀ EM -Peggy-

Born wild x 2000-11-00 Circus Baldini
2† ♀ EM -Monty-

Born wild x 2000-11-00 Circus Baldini
3† ♂ EM -stillborn-

EEP id: 9812
Born captive-born < 1 1998-01-17 Ankhor x Kewa Dead 1998-01-171998-01-17 Tierpark Berlin
4† ♀ LA -Konga-

Born wild x Dead 1991 Dresden Zoo
5† ♀ EM -Bombay-

Born wild 1960 x Dead 1990-08-011963-06-07 Dresden Zoo
6† ⚪ EM -unknown-

Born unknown x Dead 1989 Circus Barum
7† ♀ EM -unknown-

Born wild x Dead 1989 Circus Barum
8† ⚪ EM -unknown-

Born unknown x Dead 1989 Circus Barum
9† ♀ EM -Kati-

EEP id: 5906
Born wild 1958 x Dead 1972-01-021961-06-21 Magdeburg Zoo
10† ♀ EM -Eutina-

Born unknown 1959 x Dead 19721961-00-00 Circus Carl Althoff
11† ♀ EM -Sonja-

Born wild 1956 x Dead 1971-07-301960-10-07 Magdeburg Zoo
12† ♂ EM -Con Voi Bon-

Born wild 1937 x Dead 1960-06-211959-10-07 Leipzig Zoo
13† ♀ EM -Kiri-

Born wild 1930 x Dead 1960-05-241952-09-28 Leipzig Zoo
14† ⚪ EM -unknown-

Born unknown x Dead Circus Barum

Reference list Koehl, Dan, (2024). Elephant Pox. Elephant Encyclopedia, available online retrieved 20 September 2021 at https://www.elephant.se/index.php?id=215. (archived at the Wayback machine)

Sources used for this article is among others:

Selected publications
  • Characterization of a pox virus strain isolated from an elephant. Kubin, G.; Kolb, O.; Gerstl, F. Wien Tierarztl Monatsschr, 1975, v. 62 (6-8), p. 271-276. Language: German with Summary in English. NAL call no: 41.8 T345 Descriptors: pox virus, elephant, strain.
  • Elephants and their habitats: The ecology of elephants in North Bunyoro, Uganda. Laws, R.M.; Parker, I.S.C.; Johnstone, R.C.B. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975, 376 p. ill. index, bibl. NAL call no: QL737.P98L3 Descriptors: elephants, wildlife conservation, wildlife management.
  • Exungulation of all extremities in a female elephant in consequence of a smallpox infection. Kuntze, A.; Burger, M.; Jancke, S.; Topfer, I. Monatsh Veterinarmed, Sept. 15, 1975, v. 30 (18), p. 703-705. ref. Language: German with an English summary. NAL call no: 41.8 M742 Descriptors: small pox, elephant, exungulation, feet.

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Categories glossary | disease

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