OKLAHOMA CITY – While zoo keepers at the Oklahoma City Zoo mourn the loss of one of their beloved elephants, zoo officials believe they may know what caused the 4-year-old Malee’s death.
When zoo keepers noticed Malee moving slower than normal and a discoloration in her mouth, they started to treat her for the elephant endotheliotropic herpes virus, or EEHV1.
Zoo officials later announced that preliminary blood testing and an animal autopsy indicate the 4-year-old, female Asian elephant died due to an infection of EEHV1.
Final results of the tests are pending.
“This insidious, elephant-specific disease has a mortality rate estimated between 80 and 90% and has been the cause of death of approximately 25% of the Asian elephants born in North America since 1978. It usually strikes when the calves are between 1 and 4 years old. They most often succumb within 24 to 72 hours of showing the first symptoms. Various strains of the virus are found in Asian and African elephants in human care as well as in wild populations. There is no known cure or vaccine,” the International Elephant Foundation said on its website.
Zoo officials say this particular strain of EEHV is the most common in elephants across North America, Europe, and in Asia.
Veterinary staff members are certain that Malee did not contract the disease from Bamboo and Chai, the elephants that recently joined Oklahoma City’s herd from the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle.
According to a press release from the zoo, this strain of EEHV will likely be related to or similar to the strain that caused illness in Malee’s aunt, Chandra.
Officials say Chandra did have the virus years ago before moving to Oklahoma City but she was able to overcome the illness.
As for how the elephants are doing, their keepers say they appear to be okay.
Zoo officials plan to release more information as it becomes available.