Second elephant in a week dies of herpesvirus at Indianapolis Zoo

A young African elephant died at the Indianapolis Zoo on Tuesday of an incurable type of herpesvirus, becoming the zoo’s second young elephant to die from the virus in a week.

The elephant also became the fourth zoo elephant to die in the U.S. within a month, regardless of cause.

Kalina, 8, died just one week after 6-year-old Nyah, also an African elephant, died of the same type of herpesvirus found exclusively in elephants, said Rob Shumaker, president of the Indianapolis Zoo.

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"Our zoo family is devastated," he said.

Both elephants tested for high levels of elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV), a type of herpesvirus that can cause fatal hemorrhagic disease in the mammals, Shumaker told the FOX59 Indianapolis. The virus, which cannot spread to humans or other animal species, shows no warning signs, has no vaccine and has no way to prevent it.

Kalina and Nyah, the two youngest of the zoo’s elephant herd, both died 48 hours after contracting mild stomachaches and loss of appetite, the Indianapolis Star reported. They were both in the highest at-risk period for the disease, which is considered to be between 1 and 8 years of age. The disease has an 85 percent mortality rate.

The devastated zoo staff wasn’t alone in grieving the animals’ deaths.

"This is probably just as difficult for our elephants. We know that elephants grieve. They are intensely social," Shumaker told the Star. "And we've seen some pretty dramatic responses from the rest of our herd."

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The two Indianapolis deaths brought the overall number of elephant deaths in the U.S. to four in about a month. Earlier in March, a 55-year-old Asian elephant was euthanized at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans because irreversible kidney disease was hurting her quality of life.

In late February, a 50-year-old African elephant died at a Miami zoo after fighting with another elderly elephant.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.