Houston Zoo elephant dies from infection

November 10, 2008 9:56:03 AM PST
Mac, the Houston Zoo's Asian elephant, died last night following a brief struggle with the elephant herpesvirus.[SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

Veterinarians kept a close watch over Mac after zoo workers alerted them they saw indications that Mac was exhibiting initial symptoms of elephant herpesvirus. He began receiving treatment immediately but the 2-year-old elephant died Sunday night.

"The entire Zoo staff is absolutely devastated. It's difficult to put into words and describe the attachment that has developed over the past two years. This is a terrible loss especially for the elephant keepers and veterinary medical staff who cared for Mac during his time with us," said Houston Zoo spokesman Brian Hill.

A necropsy, an animal autopsy, will be conducted at the state veterinary diagnostic lab at Texas A&M University. The results will not be known for several weeks.

About Mac Born October 1, 2006 at the Houston Zoo, Mac set a birth weight record for Asian elephants ? 384 pounds. Playful, intelligent, curious and mischievous, Mac quickly became a favorite of Zoo guests and staff alike. Mac enjoyed interacting with his keepers and proved to be a good student, learning more than 30 "behaviors," activities that activities that provided exercise for him and gave his keepers the tools they needed to care for him.

About The Elephant Herpesvirus

Elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV) is a recent discovery. The virus was identified in 1995 by researchers at the Smithsonian National Zoo and Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Many animals and humans carry herpesviruses throughout their lives and never become sick. For reasons not fully understood, herpesviruses can come out of latency and circulate through the bloodstream. Most elephants are able to fight the virus and survive when it comes out of latency. Calves appear to be most susceptible to the virus after they have been weaned. There is no cure for herpesvirus in animals or humans. It is only when an elephant is demonstrating clinical illness that zoos are able to detect the EEHV virus in blood or tissue. There is not yet a direct test to detect elephant herpes virus in a healthy animal with a latent (hidden) infection.

Herpesviruses are not limited to elephants in zoos; herpesviruses are found in wild elephants. In fact, wild elephants in Asia have died from EEHV. The Houston Zoo, the AZA, the International Elephant Foundation and other zoos and institutions are supporting the effort of the National Elephant Herpesvirus Laboratory at the Smithsonian National Zoo on testing and treatment for the disease that will contribute to the long-term survival of the species in both zoo and wild populations.

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