At the Koottoor elephant centre in Kerala, herpes is causing jumbo deaths.

One week after Sreekutty, a one-and-a-half-year-old elephant, died in a rehabilitation centre in Kottoor, Thiruvananthapuram, another baby elephant perished. Arjun was five years old at the time. They were both infected with the terrible herpes virus, Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpes Virus (EEHV), and perished within days. At the centre, three more baby elephants under the age of ten have been afflicted with the EEHV.

“We have no idea where the virus came from. Because this is primarily a rehabilitation facility, the elephants who arrive have either become separated from their herds or have been forced away by a natural disaster such as a landslide. “They could be as frail as Sreekutty and Arjun were,” Neyyar Wildlife Warden JR Ani said.

Herpes is fatal in Asian elephants under the age of ten at a rate of more than 80%. Herpes was initially discovered in an Asian elephant at the Washington DC Zoo in 1995. However, later analysis of tissue samples revealed that it occurred in 1983.

“At the moment, there is no viable antidote. It primarily affects babies, with the majority of them dying within 48 hours after becoming infected. It ignores the adult elephants, yet they could serve as carriers. That’s what happened in this case. The infection could have been picked up by the older elephants while roaming neighbouring woodlands. The virus has been discovered in wild animals. The adult elephants could have subsequently carried it back to the rehab centre, where the infants became infected,” Ani says.

The older elephants are being tested to see if any of them are infected with the virus. “Doctors suggest we should undergo regular tests.”

Kannan, a two-and-a-half-year-old elephant, Amina, a one-and-a-half-year-old elephant, and Podichi, a six-year-old elephant, are the three other elephants infected with the virus. The centre now has nine newborn elephants.

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