Final blood test results show 4-year-old Malee died from a strain of the elephant herpes virus. Zoo Veterinarians now believe she caught the virus from one of the elephants that moved here from Seattle.
Director of Veterinary Services Jennifer D’Agostino says all of the elephants at the zoo carry the virus that killed Malee. But they discovered Chai was contagious a month or two before Malee died.
The heartbreaking news of Malee's death came in October. At that time, zoo veterinarians knew she died of the elephant herpes virus. But after testing trunk secretions of all the other elephants, they learned Chai, one of two elephants that were brought here from Seattle, likely passed on the deadly virus.
“All of our elephants carry EEHV1A. It’s just that Chai happened to be the one that was shedding,” explained D’Agostino. “She might have picked it up when she got here. It’s something she may have been harboring over time.”
D’Agostino emphasizes Chai did not bring a new virus into the zoo.
“We knew we had Malee that was at that age that she was certainly at risk of the elephant herpes virus. We knew we had various strains of herpes virus in our heard and it wasn’t going to change the risk factor associated with Malee.”
Still with another young elephant in the herd, the zoo is planning on purchasing a machine that can test trunk washings of all the elephants every week.
“That might give us hopefully a heads up that somebody is shedding the virus so we can take some extra precautions there and really amp up our monitoring.”
Chai also died three months later. However, that was an issue with her teeth and not this virus that led to her death.