A 6-year-old Asian elephant calf born at the Saint Louis Zoo has died just days after falling ill.
Kenzi, who was born at the zoo in 2012, was taken sick over the weekend and died Saturday despite ‘the very best efforts of all teams involved in her care’, zookeepers said.
Kenzi, the daughter of Raja and Rani, succumbed to elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV) — specifically, EEHV-1A — at 1:14 a.m. CT Saturday. EEHV is a viral infection shown to be fatal to wild elephants and elephants in human care.
“This is a devastating loss for Kenzi’s family, the elephant care team and the St. Louis community,” Martha Fischer, Curator of Ungulates and Elephants, said in a statement. “Those who cared for Kenzi every day are understandably grieving. We put our hearts and souls into trying to save her.”
While there is no vaccine for the infection, the zoo said it routinely and proactively tests the elephants for EEHV as part of its comprehensive health monitoring program for this species.
Kenzi was diagnosed with EEHV-1A on Feb. 20 from a blood sample that was taken on Feb. 19. The sample was submitted to the National Elephant Herpesvirus Lab (NEHL) at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, which is a worldwide resource of elephant herpesvirus information, testing and research for the global elephant community.
When EEHV was suspected, Kenzi immediately started on anti-viral medication. She received round-the-clock care from the veterinary and keeper staff.
“I can’t say enough about the dedication of our team,” Fischer said. “Our keepers and veterinarians left no stone unturned in search of new ideas and treatments that could save Kenzi’s life.”
The Saint Louis Zoo has been a leader in pursuing the latest EEHV detection and testing protocols. EEHV is a recent discovery, identified in 1995 by researchers at Smithsonian National Zoo, according to officials. Since its discovery, the virus has been identified in elephants in U.S., Europe and in Asia.
Zoo veterinarians and curators routinely confer with EEHV experts across the country. For several years, the Zoo has joined other North American elephant care facilities in actively supporting EEHV research efforts.
All of the elephants at the zoo are under close monitoring for EEHV. At this time, no others are testing positive, according to the zoo.
Historically, this herpesvirus most frequently occurs in elephants younger than seven years old. As such, the Zoo is providing prophylactic treatment to 4-year-old Priya and will continue to conduct regular testing.
The Zoo’s elephant care team successfully treated 11-year-olds Jade and Maliha for two different types of EEHV-1 on two separate occasions.
There are fewer than 35,000 Asian elephants left in the wild, and they are facing extinction. Given the shrinking population of Asian elephants, the Saint Louis Zoo is committed to conserve this species. Also, the Zoo supports the welfare and conservation of Asian elephants in Sumatra and other countries in Asia through the International Elephant Foundation, as well as the conservation of African elephants in Kenya.