Protecting elephants from the Herpesvirus

There is a wide variety of herpesviruses. The elephant herpesvirus doesn’t just cause a simple cold sore like the herpes simplex virus does in humans. It is one of the leading causes of mortality in young Asian elephants, both in the wild and in zoos. This virus is likely latent in most elephants, but it’s especially young elephants aged 1 to 8 years old who are susceptible. It causes an acute hemorrhagic disease, characterized by swelling and internal bleeding. Over 80% of Asian elephants do not survive the disease, often within hours or days.


A sudden illness

For the time being, there is no vaccine to protect elephants, and no treatment can guarantee the recovery of the animal once the disease has been diagnosed. Only supportive treatment, mainly based on plasma transfusions, can be life-saving in the most favorable cases, especially if initiated promptly. With, on the one hand, the largest elephant herd in Europe and, on the other hand, the practice of “direct contact” between the elephants and their caretakers in Pairi Daiza, the park effectively functions as a plasma bank. Thanks to this ongoing close relationship between the animals and their caretakers, it is possible to quickly and safely collect a large quantity of blood when an elephant calf is in danger in other parks in Europe.


Vaccinating Elephants

In the same period, the Pairi Daiza Foundation collaborated with the Zoolyx Veterinary Laboratory in Aalst to establish a laboratory for the diagnosis of elephant herpes in Belgium. Since 2023, the Pairi Daiza Foundation has joined efforts with the EEHV group of Utrecht University to develop a vaccine against this devastating disease.


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