By R. Scott Nolen, July 15, 2011
This past May the Berlin Zoo announced that Ko Raya, a 2-year-old female Asian elephant, had died of an infection caused by a particularly virulent species of herpesvirus discovered only within the past two decades.
With few exceptions, herpesviruses don’t cause clinically important disease. The virus that caused Ko Raya’s death, however, was one of several novel elephant endotheliotropic herpesviruses now considered among the most serious challenges to the Asian elephant’s survival in captivity and the wild. No vaccine is available for EEHV, nor are there any reliable treatment options for the disease, which accounts for a quarter of young, captive Asian elephant deaths.