Indianapolis Zoo Loses Its Two Youngest Elephants To Deadly Virus Days Apart

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The Indianapolis Zoo’s two youngest elephants have died within days of each other, both succumbing to a common but aggressive disease that is devastating to the pachyderms.

As ABC News reports, the zoo announced on Tuesday that its youngest elephant, eight-year-old Kalina, had succumbed to the elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus, or EEHV, a deadly disease for elephants in both captivity and in the wild.

It was the second elephant death at the zoo in just a few days. Just a week earlier, on March 19, the zoo announced the death of its then-youngest living elephant, six-year-old Nyah. Both animals had been born in captivity, and were reared at the Indianapolis Zoo.

Zoo president Rob Shumaker tried valiantly to hold back his emotions when announcing the loss of the two animals.

“We’ve had a really difficult day. We’ve lost two of our youngest African elephants within a week of each other. Our zoo family is devastated.”

The disease that claimed the lives of the two elephants is described as “aggressive,” causing fatal hemorrhaging in the animals. There is no vaccination and no cure. Younger elephants, such as Kalina and Nyah, are at the greatest risk.

“It is one of the most deadly viral infections in elephants worldwide but is most commonly found in Asian elephants. It occurs in elephants in the wild as well as those in human care such as in sanctuaries and zoos. EEHV can strike without warning.”

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Fortunately, the rest of the Indianapolis Zoo’s elephant herd has tested negative for the virus.

Shumaker was quick to point out that the disease only affects elephants, and that there are no risks to the zoo’s other animals — or to its human visitors.

In the past couple of years, several elephants have died at zoos across the country. As The Cincinnati Enquirer reported at the time, in December of 2018 a three-week-old infant elephant died at the Columbus Zoo after what was described as a “short illness.” Similarly, as The San Luis Obispo Tribune reported at the time, in October of 2018 a 47-year-old female elephant at the Santa Barbara Zoo died of old age.

In 2008, following a six-year study, the journal Science reported that elephants have severely-reduced life spans in captivity. In the wild, the animals can live as long as 60 years. However, in captivity, elephants rarely make it past 40. Obesity and mental stress are the most likely factors for the animals’ short life spans in captivity.