15 September 2015

Hari, who was born on 25 November 2012 to mum Sundara, was being treated by zoo vets due to concerns detected in his daily blood tests. However, despite the very best efforts of the teams involved in his care, his condition deteriorated and he died late yesterday afternoon (27/10/2015). 

This terrible news comes six weeks after the death of female calf, Bala. The exact cause of Hari’s death will be determined by a post-mortem examination however, as with Bala, we can confirm he tested positive for elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV), a fast-moving virus which affects both wild and captive elephants between the ages of two and five years old. There is currently no vaccine against EEHV, although research is ongoing. 

Chester Zoo’s veterinary and keeping staff carry out daily blood testing of the elephant herd and, as soon as the first traces of EEHV were detected in both Bala and then Hari, the teams began early treatment using anti-viral medication. Sadly, despite the early intervention and rapid response of the teams, the treatments were unsuccessful.

Asian elephants are an endangered species with just 40,000 – 50,000 estimated to remain in the wild and the loss of Hari, and Bala before him, is a devastating blow for the herd and all who have cared for them. 

Mike Jordan, collections director, said:

We’re absolutely devastated by the news. Hari was a much loved member of the herd and was well known for his playful, sometimes mischievous antics. He’ll be hugely missed. 

Our veterinary and keeping teams caught the virus at the earliest possible stage and did all they could to help him try and fight it. These events are desperately, desperately sad for everyone involved.

EEHV is a terrible virus which affects young elephants typically around weaning age. In many elephants it can lie dormant and undetectable and never develops into the disease but others are susceptible to it – currently no one knows why some elephants get it and others don’t.

Chester Zoo is part of the global conservation community committed to researching EEHV and finding ways of improving outcomes for elephants that develop the virus. Ultimately we want to try and develop a preventative vaccine as, currently, there isn’t one.

For many years we’ve funded vital research into EEHV but researchers have yet to be able to culture the virus which is necessary to create a vaccine and determine what drugs are most effective. At present, drug treatment is effective in only around one-third of cases and survival rates overall are around 20%.

We have a responsibility to do everything we can to understand this disease in order to have a chance of eradicating it, both in zoos and, crucially, in the wild. Asian elephants are endangered and it’s hoped that the work being done in captivity will hold the key to unlocking the information researchers need to make a positive breakthrough.

Chester Zoo has a long history of working with Asian elephants in the wild and remains a major force in supporting conservation efforts in India.

The zoo’s Assam Haathi Project, in partnership with Ecosystems-India, started in 2004 and works with dozens of villages in northern India to help successfully mitigate human-elephant conflict, implementing a range of innovative methods to help keep elephants and people from harm.

In February this year, 12 members of zoo staff travelled to Assam in India to take part in an expedition working to further protect elephants in the region.

More information about EEHV can be found here.