Ostrava, North Moravia, Feb 25 (CTK) – The elephant calf that suddenly died in the Ostrava zoo shortly before turning two in January was killed by the Herpes virus, German expert Thomas Hildebrandt said on Thursday, adding that the virus’ growing aggressiveness threatens the Asian elephant population worldwide.
The number of similar cases has been rising, Hildebrandt, from a Berlin institute for animal diseases research, said.
African elephants have their own form of the virus, which is not so dangerous, he said.
The elephant Herpes virus, which seems to have mutated in the past years and become more aggressive, mainly poses the threat to elephant calves.
The death of Sumitra, a female calf, in Ostrava a month ago, is the first such case in the Czech Republic, but the deaths of about 80 elephants in captivity have been registered in the world, including four last year.
“Nevertheless, the diseease is also fatal for elephants in the wild. We know of about a hundred elephants who died from it. The number is a mere estimate,” Hildebrandt said.
Experts know that no danger threatens the calves who drink milk from their mother. However, the virus becomes dangerous to them as soon as they cease to feed on the maternal milk.
Sumitra had problems with receiving food after her birth already. She had to be put on artificial food.
She was doing well and growing up for almost two years, though the zoo workers repeatedly said her condition may change anytime.
“We were unable to save her life. We want to draw a lesson and help other elephants,” Hildebrandt said.
According to available information, no case is known where an elephant young which did not drink its mother’s milk would live until adult age.
Referring to the autopsy results, Hildebrandt said Sumitra’s condition was very good otherwise. The state of her bones were unusually good.
“The formula we developed for her worked well. In other previous cases, the results were not that positive,” he said.
However, the formula still does not contain the substance which protects the calf from the Herpes virus and which experts have failed to identify so far.