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Third elephant at Dublin Zoo tests positive for deadly virus



Third elephant at Dublin Zoo tests positive for deadly virus

A third elephant at Dublin Zoo has tested positive for a deadly virus that has killed two young members of the small herd as the fight against “the devil” continues, the director Christoph Schwitzer has said.

While blood tests on 17-year-old Asha have confirmed she has Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesvirus (EEHV), days after seven-year-old Zinda and eight-year-old Avani died from the same disease, she is not manifesting any symptoms, the zoo said.

The other elephants in the Kaziranga Forest Trail area of the zoo, including the bull elephant Aung Bo, who moved to Ireland from Chester Zoo last month, 40-year-old Dina and 10-year-old Samiya, have so far tested negative for the virus.

EEHV is an unpredictable and fatal virus affecting young elephants both in the wild and under human care. It has a mortality rate of up to 85 pert cent. It is not transferable between species and poses no health risk to humans.

“It is such an ongoing and fluid situation and we just don’t know the outcome [but] the odds are so much against us with this virus,” Dr Schwitzer told The Irish Times.

The zoo is hoping that as a 17-year-old, Asha will have some level of antibodies already in her immune system.

Young elephants up to the age of nine are particularly vulnerable “but it doesn’t stop there and it can affect all and can kill all the elephants as well so we are fighting the devil,” Dr Schwitzer said.

“We are awaiting test results from a laboratory in the Netherlands which we’re hoping to get back in the next 48 hours to tell us what the antibody status of Asha is.”

He said that the other elephants in the herd had been grieving the loss of their two family members. “It is heartbreaking to see but what we do and what we do need to do is leave a dead elephant in there for a while until they have all said goodbye to her and we wait for that to happen,” Dr Schwitzer said.

“That’s very important so that they know what’s going on and that a member of the herd is not just gone for whatever reason that they can’t comprehend. At least they can make their peace with their grief. They are in a different mood it’s all very very sombre.”

When asked how the virus had entered the habitat, he pointed out that it is very similar to a human herpesvirus and can lie dormant in animals for many years.

“We know that it was in our herd because we’ve had events before. One female actually had it for a little while and it was not fatal in that in that instance but we know that it was latent in the herd as it is in most elephants in zoos and also in the wild,” he said

He stressed that while the deaths and the ongoing crisis are tragic for the animals, their carers and the public, the zoo “will do everything we possibly can to learn about the virus and we are all trying to work on a vaccine”.

He said Chester Zoo and Houston zoo in Texas are leading the efforts for the international zoo community and Dublin Zoo has contributed to that with samples.

Dublin Zoo veterinarian Emma Flynn said the medical team was doing what they could to help Asha in terms of anti-viral treatments and said they were “a bit more hopeful she will actually be able to fight this with some help from us. But we hope that her immune system will actually get into gear and fight this.”

She warned that the virus doesn’t go away overnight “and we can’t eradicate it”. She said it could take some months until it is not causing clinical disease.

After an elephant has died from the virus it is disposed of through incineration, but only after a postmortem, Ms Flynn said. “We just have to be really careful with bio security but this is not a virus that can affect any other species.”

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