Zoo Elephant Dies of Herpes Just Days After Her Brother

A second elephant has died of a lethal strain of herpes just days after her younger brother was killed by the virus in a Swiss zoo.

Omysha, 8, died July 10, just days after being allowed into an enclosure with her brother Umesh's body to mourn him.

Keepers at Zoo Zürich let Umesh's family spend some time with his body to say goodbye, as elephants are known to mourn their dead.

Omysha, who can be seen in the footage, as well as her sister Chandra, 20, and their 36-year-old mother Indi, were allowed to approach his body to say farewell.

Elephant Omysha at Zoo Zürich
Omysha, seen here drinking water at Zoo Zürich, died of a lethal strain of herpes just days after her younger brother was killed by the virus at the zoo. Zoo Zürich, Enzo Franchini/Zenger

Chandra and Indi were also allowed to say goodbye to Omysha's body.

The herpes virus - Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpes Virus (EEHV) - is quite common among the large mammals, but it is especially dangerous to young elephants.

Zoo Zürich confirmed Thursday that Umesh's sister Omysha needed treatment due to the high viral load in her body.

The zoo announced Monday: "Eight-year-old Omysha passed away last night as a result of complications from the elephant herpes virus, which is typical of elephants.

"After increased virus activity was detected in the elephant cow Omysha last week and the critical threshold value was exceeded, the veterinarians and zoo staff started intensive round-the-clock treatment.

"Unfortunately, Omysha did not respond to treatment with antiviral drugs and blood transfusions and passed away last night from Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpes Virus Hemorrhagic Disease (EEHV-HD).

"This dreaded disease, which can cause internal bleeding and organ failure, is common among both zoo elephants and wild elephants.

"This morning, sister Chandra (20) and mother Indi (36) had time to say goodbye before Omysha is examined more closely by pathologists.

"This investigation can help to better understand the 'Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpes Virus' (EEHV) in the future and to further optimize the treatment methods.

"For example, research is currently being carried out with the aim of developing a vaccination against EEHV.

"This could protect young elephants from the virus in the future.

Elephant mom says goodbye to daughter
Mother Indi says goodbye to her daughter, Omysha, who died of herpes at Zoo Zürich on July 10, 2022, just days after her brother, Umesh. Zoo Zürich, Nicole Schnyder/Zenger

"Last week, other elephants at Zürich Zoo also showed an increased viral load in their bodies. However, this was within the tolerance range and treatment was therefore refrained from. Periods with such a slightly increased viral load can help the body to successfully produce antibodies.

"These could prevent a later outbreak of the disease.

"In Zürich Zoo, as in many other zoos and in the wild, all elephants are probably carriers of the virus. In the most recent blood test, no animal was found to have an increased viral load. Five-year-old Ruwani is most at risk because the disease mainly affects young elephants. It will continue to be tested for virus activity in regular monitoring."

Zoo Director Severin Dressen said: "We are monitoring the situation very carefully.

"Our elephant carers are taking blood samples each week to have them checked in a lab.

"This virus is very common among elephants. The decisive question is how powerful it gets.

"I heard someone comparing it to the COVID-19 virus among humans.

"That does make sense in a certain way. Some of us barely notice any symptoms after getting COVID. But COVID has also caused many deaths."

Omysha treated at Zürich Zoo
Veterinarian Jean-Michel Hatt and his team treated Omysha at the Zürich Zoo in Switzerland, but the 8-year-old elephant died July 10, 2022, from herpes, the same virus that killed her brother Umesh just days earlier. Zoo Zürich, Nicole Schnyder/Zenger

Speaking about the elephant family's farewell to their fallen member, Dressen told local media: "We left his body in their enclosure for some time to help the group realize what happened."

The zoo director added: "These are turbulent times for all of us. What has happened is nothing you can just shrug off after work.

"The whole staff is affected. When you're working in a zoo, you do so because you're passionate about animals."

Meanwhile, the body of 2-year-old Umesh is being examined. Zoo Zürich added: "We deeply regret the death of Umesh."

"EEHV is very common among elephants, so most animals come into contact with it at some point and become infected. There is always a risk, especially for young animals, that it will suddenly break out. This affects both elephants in zoos and in wild populations.

"We thank the tireless efforts of the veterinarians, the curator and all animal keepers who have done everything they can to help Umesh."

The zoo explained that up to two-thirds of all deaths in young Asian elephants in European and American zoos can be traced back to EEHV.

African bush elephants and Asian elephants are listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Ivory trade, poaching and habitat destruction are the major threats to elephant populations.

Zoo Zürich opened in 1929. It is the third-oldest zoo in Switzerland, and registered around 1.1 million visitors in 2020, down slightly from its pre-COVID-19 lockdown figures of 2019 when it welcomed 1.2 million visitors.

It is situated at the Zürichberg, a wooded hill overlooking Lake Zurich.

This story was provided to Newsweek by Zenger News.