Fatal elephant virus stalks Zurich zoo

An Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) throws mud at himself with his trunk at Kaeng Krachan elephant park at Zurich zoo on July 27, 2022. A deadly virus has swept by means of Zurich’s zoo, killing a few Asian elephants in a thirty day period and leaving industry experts stumped as to how to stop its spread. The zoo overlooking Switzerland’s largest town now has only five of the majestic creatures roaming its 11,000-square-metre (118,400-square-foot) elephant enclosure. Fabrice Coffrini / AFP

ZURICH, Switzerland – A fatal virus has swept by Zurich’s zoo, killing 3 Asian elephants in a month and leaving experts stumped as to how to stop its distribute.

The zoo overlooking Switzerland’s largest metropolis now has only five of the majestic creatures roaming its 11,000-sq.-metre (118,400-square-foot) elephant enclosure.

Two-calendar year-outdated bull Umesh was the to start with to drop sufferer to the Elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV) at the conclusion of June, adopted just times later by his eight-year-aged sister Omysha. 

Last Saturday, Ruwani, a five-yr-previous woman from a next matriarchal herd also died. 

They succumbed at lightning pace to the herpesvirus, which leaves younger Asian elephants with internal bleeding and organ failure.

In captivity, this virus is “the main lead to of dying for elephants amongst two and 8 yrs”, zoo curator Pascal Marty informed AFP.

The virus has also been acknowledged to get rid of elephants in the wild, he claimed, but “it can be a little bit harder to detect”.

Past goodbye

The herpesvirus lies latent in approximately all elephants, both equally in the wild and in captivity, but can in some circumstances abruptly come to be lethal, killing its victims in a make any difference of times.

“We nonetheless never know why it takes place and when it transpires,” Marty stated. 

The zoo’s five remaining Asian elephants — all older people — were permitted to shell out a handful of hours collected all around the remains of their youthful relatives associates and companions. 

Marty stated it was essential to give the animals “enough time (to) say farewell”.

“It is very difficult to say no matter whether or not they are sad, simply because unhappiness is one thing human,” he stated.

But he pressured that given that elephants are hugely social animals, it is critical that they have a probability to realise when a member of their herd is no extended alive.

“It is pretty crucial for them to have closure to realize this person is not section of our team anymore.” 

A lot less than a 7 days following the most current demise, the big mammals look to be likely nonchalantly about their each day actions, from swimming in a huge pond to hunting for meals.

They slip their trunks into holes, exactly where a personal computer programme randomly distributes carrots and dried grass, aiming to make the animals stroll and research for food stuff as in the wild.


“It is type of unfortunate, particularly due to the fact below in Zurich I imagine the elephants do have adequate house,” reported frequent customer Mauro Muller, 29.

Zurich zoo opened its new elephant enclosure in 2014, providing its herds 6 instances more room than they experienced earlier.

But 8 a long time on, the zoo acknowledged it was heading as a result of “complicated days”.

“It is specially annoying that we are powerless against this virus, inspite of the ideal veterinary treatment as a result of the university animal medical center in Zurich,” zoo director Severin Dressen claimed in a assertion.

There is no vaccine, and although antivirals exist, they are not very effective and even when elephants are handled quickly, only about a third of them survive.

“The epidemiology of the illness is even now not obvious,” reported Bhaskar Choudhury, a veterinarian and member of the Worldwide Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Asian Elephant Specialist Team.

“The virus is drop intermittently by grownups but with expanding frequency during tension durations, which is believed to be the supply of infection for youthful calves,” he told AFP.

“IUCN is remarkably involved with the mortality all over the world in captivity and far more so in the wild.”


Asian elephants, which can live up to all over 60 several years previous, are listed by the IUCN as an endangered species, with only about 50,000 left in the wild.

Deforestation, city sprawl and agricultural enhancement have robbed them of their pure habitat, even though poaching and the illegal ivory trade also threaten quite a few herds.

“The populations are declining practically all over the place,” Marty stated, introducing that for conservation factors, “it is also seriously important to have great and healthful populations of Asian elephants in Europe”.

Zurich zoo, he explained, has a person of the world’s most present day elephant enclosures, and is intent on continuing with its mission to breed them.

He explained the elephants in the park as “partners” in educating people about the difficulties wild elephants confront.

“Elephants here at the zoo have an essential function as ambassadors for their individual species,” he said.


© Agence France-Presse