Young Elephants Dying of Herpes Virus


Makenzy Ohmer

Within the past week there has been two deaths among the African Elephant population at the Indianapolis Zoo. The elephants both died from an incurable type of herpes virus.

According to Rob Shumaker, president of the Indianapolis Zoo, this type of herpes virus is only found in elephants. The virus cannot spread to humans or other animal species. The virus shows no warning signs and has no vaccine. There is no way to prevent the virus.

6-year-old Nyah died just one week before 8-year-old Kalina. These two elephants were the youngest of the zoo’s elephants. They both contracted mild stomach-ache and loss of appetite. Just 48 hours after contracting these symptoms Nyah and Kalina died.

The at-risk period for contracting the disease is between 1 and 8 years old. Since Kalina was 8 and Nyah was 6 they were both in the highest at-risk period for contracting the disease. The disease has a mortality rate of 85 percent.

The elephants tested for high levels of elephant endotheliotropic herpes virus. This is a type of herpes virus that can cause fatal hemorrhagic disease in the mammals.

“This is probably just as difficult for our elephants. We know that elephants grieve. They are intensely social.” said Rob Shumaker. “And we have seen some pretty dramatic responses from the rest of our herd.”

Early on in March, a 55-year-old Asian elephant was euthanized in New Orleans at the Audubon Zoo. The elephant had irreversible kidney disease that was hurting her quality of life.

Since the death of Kalina and Nyah the overall number of elephant deaths in the United States went up to four elephants in about a month. At the end of February a 50-year-old elephant died at a zoo in Miami after fighting with another elderly elephant.

It is the most deadly viral infection in elephants worldwide.It is most commonly found in Asian elephants. The virus can be found in elephants in the wild and elephants in the care of humans.