Herpes Virus in wild may pose ‘Jumbo’ threat to jumbo conservation in Odisha!

Since 1997 to 2014, over 20 jumbos died of EEHV infection in south India, especially Kerala. Limited epidemiological data shows most fatalities were reported in the month of September

Bhubaneswar: Is the lethal Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpes Virus (EEHV) prevalent in Odisha wild elephants?

Since the juvenile jumbos succumbed to  the killer virus at the State’s premier zoo have been translocated from different forest ranges like Dhenkanal to Chandaka and Narayanpatna,  wildlife experts are of the opinion that the lethal viral strains may have a prevalence in wild elephants in the State.

“As the elephants have been captured in different forest ranges, the blood samples have been sent for bio-chemical analysis. Experts will also visit the State to undertake further study on the cause and occurrence  of EEPV infection in Odisha,” informed State Forest & Environment Minister Bikram Arukha.

The significant mention here is any detection of EEHV virus in wild jumbos in the State will pose a grave challenge to Odisha’s jumbo conservation effort. Because, EEPV has a higher mortality rate (68-70%) and could wipe out a sizeable chunk of juvenile elephants before they could attain their puberty. As per latest Elephant Census, Odisha has around 1,980 elephants. The census, though, had estimated adult males number at 344, breeding adults were put at around 80-100.

A glance at the history of EEHV prevalence in India reveals that a bout of EEHV infection had been reported in Kerala’s Wayanad Forest range in 2014. Data shows jumbo mortalities owing to EEHV have been reported mostly from South India and Assam. Since 1997 to 2014, over 20 jumbos died of EEHV infection in south India, especially Kerala.

Epidemiological data shows most fatalities were reported in the month of September.

However, a comforting fact for wildlife enthusiasts is studies showed that the occurrence of EEHV led fatality were spotted mostly in captive (private or zoos) elephants, who mostly live without proper vet care.

Another significant revelation is most studies across the world have confirmed that wild Asian elephants, including Indians, are carriers of EEHV. But the studies found that fatalities were observed mostly among captive juvenile jumbos. And the studies further linked the deaths to some sort of stress that played a trigger factor of EEHV in captive juvenile elephants (1-8 years).

As far as spread of the EEHV in Nandankanan Zoo is concerned, since it is specific to elephants, it cannot infect other animals in the State’s premier zoo. So, when there is no threat of the infection spreading to other animals in zoo, the threat of its spread to other jumbos persist. And isolation of affected jumbos is the foremost in EEHV protocol.

Early diagnosis of the EEHV carries good survival chance of affected elephants. And a de-stressing ambience for the big mammal will keep the killer virus at bay. The instance of Chester Zoo (London) is very well known.