Young elephant at OKC Zoo being treated for same virus that killed her half-sister

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A young elephant that was born at the Oklahoma City Zoo is being treated for a potentially life-threatening disease.

The Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden’s veterinary team has started treatment for the zoo’s youngest Asian elephant, 2-year-old Kai, for elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus.

Officials say a low level of the EEHV1A virus was detected during a routine test on Kai on Thursday.

Despite the presence of the virus, zookeepers say Kai is acting normal and shows no clinical signs of the illness.

Credit: Oklahoma City Zoo

Since this is the first time she has tested positive for this particular strain, the team is taking no risks and began administering antiviral treatments.

“The Zoo’s entire expert elephant caretaking team and veterinary staff are closely monitoring Kai, her reaction to the treatment protocol and the behavior of the entire elephant herd,” said Dwight Lawson, OKC Zoo’s executive director/CEO. “We are grateful for the overwhelming support of our members, visitors and colleagues at other elephant care facilities around the country accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).”

Treatments will continue until her virus levels decline.

EEHV is a naturally occurring disease that is often fatal for elephants worldwide.

The elephant care team at the Oklahoma City Zoo conducts weekly blood collections, trunk washes, and other testing procedures to monitor for signs of EEHV.

Kai’s half-sister, Malee, the first Asian elephant born at the Zoo, died in 2015 at the age of four due to infection of EEHV1A. This strain was similar to the one that caused illness in Chandra, one of the zoo’s adult females, aunt to Kai, Malee and Achara, when she was a calf. Fortunately, Chandra survived the illness, and has remained healthy since that time. 

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