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Cincinnati Zoo takes steps to keep elephant herd from catching a form of herpes

four elephants stand on the edge of pond
Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden
The Cincinnati Zoo plans to expand its Asian elephant herd in the coming years and is building a new habitat to house the pachyderms.

There are at least 19 types of herpes that infect elephants — in fact, according to the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, all adult Asian and African elephants carry endotheliotropic-type herpes viruses. The zoo says it's hoping to protect its growing herd from contracting a severe type of herpes by using special transfusions.

Zookeepers recently injected the two young male Asian elephants that arrived in November with plasma transfusions from one of the zoo's long-time elephant residents. The zoo says research indicates plasma transfusions will boost a young elephant's antibody response to Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesvirus, or EEHV.

Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden

"EEHV is a major threat to elephants in the North American population. Zoos with elephants have been working together to understand what can be done to combat this deadly virus, and one of our partners reported promising results from performing a plasma transfusion," says Christina Gorsuch, director of animal care, in a release. "We also set up a dedicated EEHV lab so we can test the elephants regularly and act swiftly if one shows symptoms."

RELATED: The Cincinnati Zoo has 4 new elephants

Part of the preparations for conducting the transfusions included creating a database of potential donors from other zoos, so now they know which elephants are compatible with each other.

"Not all elephants have compatible blood for donation, so options are limited,” says Cincinnati Zoo veterinarian Dr. Jess Heinz. "We now know which donors are a match for the boys and can bank plasma from them. It may be used as a precaution as the elephants are introduced to the zoo's older elephants, or it may be used if they show signs of illness."

The zoo is in the process of completing a new Asian elephant habitat called Elephant Trek. The five-acre enclosure is designed to become home to a planned multi-generation herd of eight to 10 elephants.

RELATED: Cincinnati Zoo To Test Elephants Following Deaths At Indianapolis Zoo

"Bull elephant, Sabu, will return from the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, his temporary home for the past two years, later this summer and will be introduced to the four elephants that are in Elephant Trek, including the young males. The three females that are in Elephant Reserve will be integrated into the big herd after that," the zoo states.

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.