Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Deaths Of Zoo Elephants Explained -- New Virus Identified

Date:
February 22, 1999
Source:
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions
Summary:
Researchers at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., have discovered the cause of death of nearly a dozen young North American zoo elephants -- fatal hemorrhaging from a previously unknown form of herpesvirus that apparently jumped from African elephants to the Asian species.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., have discovered the cause of death of nearly a dozen young North American zoo elephants -- fatal hemorrhaging from a previously unknown form of herpesvirus that apparently jumped from African elephants to the Asian species.

Related Articles


"This is very troubling because these are endangered species," said Gary Hayward, Ph.D., a Johns Hopkins scientist and co-author of a report published in the Feb. 19 Science. "And also because there may still be carrier African elephants in zoos."

Quick detection and treatment with antiviral drugs is life-saving, he added.

Asian elephants are bred more frequently in captivity than their African cousins, and a sufficient number of young elephants is necessary for bolstering the population, which is dwindling in the wild.

Of 34 Asian elephants born in zoos in the United States and Canada from 1983 to 1996, seven have died from the virus, and two more with incomplete records are suspected to have died from it. The virus appears to be latent in most African elephants, although two of seven African elephants born in North America over the past 15 years have also died from herpesvirus infection. Most of the infected elephants were young.

In their report, the scientists say that the elephant herpesvirus kills by infecting cells that line blood vessels in the heart, liver and other organs. Untreated, the virus soon causes internal bleeding and heart failure. The virus hits suddenly, killing in a few days.

The "index case," or first animal identified as having the virus, was a 16-month-old Asian elephant, Kumari -- the first elephant ever born at the National Zoo. When Kumari died in 1995, her keepers were baffled.

Soon after, Laura Richman, D.V.M., now at The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and Richard Montali, D.V.M., of the National Zoo, began investigating the case. When examining tissue samples from Kumari, they found tiny sacks of virus, called inclusion bodies. Using an electron microscope, the researchers saw that the viruses inside the inclusion bodies resembled herpesvirus. DNA analysis confirmed they were indeed dealing with a herpesvirus, although of a type not before identified.

Richman and her colleagues then went through old zoo records and found other elephant deaths in which the symptoms resembled those Kumari had suffered. After analyzing tissue samples from these previous deaths, the researchers confirmed the elephants had died from herpesvirus, leading them to watch out for other cases.

Other elephants were subsequently diagnosed with the virus, one in California in 1996, the second in Missouri in 1997, and the third last year in Florida. Upon hearing about the Missouri elephant, a calf named Chandra, veterinarians at the zoo prescribed the antiviral drug famciclovir. Chandra recovered in a few days. The Florida elephant also recovered after the same treatment.

"We were able to cure these elephants, which is promising. If caught early, the infection appears to be treatable," said Richman.

To see if the virus exists in the wild, the researchers worked with scientists in Zimbabwe and South Africa to collect blood and tissue samples from healthy African elephants. Again they found the virus, with DNA virtually identical to that found in the infected Asian elephants. This work confirmed that the virus exists in, but is nonlethal to, wild African elephants. It was also the piece of the puzzle that suggested how the zoo elephants became infected.

"It's likely that the virus is transmitted from the African to the Asian elephants in the zoos," said Richman. "That's the only way we can account for the same virus being present in both populations."

Hayward said a blood test is needed, to identify which elephants may be carrying the virus. He added that separating Asian and African elephants could prevent more deaths.

The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the Smithsonian Institution, the Kumari Elephant Conservation Fund, and Friends of the National Zoo.

Relevant Web sites:

Dr. Hayward's home page -- http://www.med.jhu.edu/bcmb/faculty/haywardg.html

National Zoo -- http://www.si.edu/organiza/museums/zoo/

Herpesviruses background -- http://www-micro.msb.le.ac.uk/335/Herpesviruses.html

###

Media Contact: Brian Vastag 410-955-8665; E-mail: [email protected]


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. "Deaths Of Zoo Elephants Explained -- New Virus Identified." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 February 1999. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/02/990222072914.htm>.
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. (1999, February 22). Deaths Of Zoo Elephants Explained -- New Virus Identified. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/02/990222072914.htm
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. "Deaths Of Zoo Elephants Explained -- New Virus Identified." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/02/990222072914.htm (accessed November 21, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Friday, November 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Could Your Genes Be The Reason You're Single?

Could Your Genes Be The Reason You're Single?

Newsy (Nov. 21, 2014) Researchers in Beijing discovered a gene called 5-HTA1, and carriers are reportedly 20 percent more likely to be single. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Baby Okapi Born at Houston Zoo

Raw: Baby Okapi Born at Houston Zoo

AP (Nov. 20, 2014) The Houston Zoo released video of a male baby okapi. Okapis, also known as the "forest giraffe", are native to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Central Africa. Video is mute from source. (Nov. 20) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Your Complicated Job Might Keep Your Brain Young

Your Complicated Job Might Keep Your Brain Young

Newsy (Nov. 20, 2014) Researchers at the University of Edinburgh found the more complex your job is, the sharper your cognitive skills will likely be as you age. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Mysterious Glow Worms Found in the Amazon

Mysterious Glow Worms Found in the Amazon

Buzz60 (Nov. 20, 2014) Wildlife photographer Jeff Cremer teamed up with entomologist Aaron Pomerantz and others to investigate a predatory glow worm found in the Amazon. Patrick Jones (@Patrick_E_Jones) explains. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins