Deadly herpes strain affects captive Asian elephants
U.S. zookeepers worry that a strain of the herpes virus will continue to strike Asian elephants in captivity nationwide.
The virus, known as elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus, has affected one in five Asian elephant calves born in the United States since the year 2000 and accounts for over half of all juvenile elephant deaths in North America. Researchers working with available tissue samples also believe it has killed approximately 24 elephants since 1983.
Because little is known about the disease, researchers are unsure how it is transmitted, and cannot say if the disease will reoccur once dormant, as some strains of herpes do in humans.
The herpes virus infects the cells that line the body’s blood vessels and causes hemorrhaging, which subsequently causes a cardiovascular collapse. The collapse can kill its victims within weeks or even days.
Antiviral drugs have yielded successful results in six North American cases, but almost twice as many calves have died even after receiving the treatments. Researchers are, therefore, uncertain how to fight the virus.
Recently, the elephant Jade at the St. Louis Zoo has been affected by the virus. The two-year old elephant was acting lethargic and sickly, leading zookeepers to have her undergo a blood test, which revealed she had a previously unknown strain of the virus.
After receiving treatment, Jade seems to be recovering. Zookeepers want to investigate if and how the drugs were effective.
Laura Richman of the Smithsonian first identified the disease in 1995. Richman said she and the researchers are still trying to find out how the disease is transmitted. Richman believes that mature elephants may carry a latent part of the disease, but the disease is more evident in calves, as their immune systems are still developing.
Obama restores Bush ruling on Endangered Species Act
The Obama administration announced Monday that it would restore a requirement that U.S. agencies consult with independent federal experts in order to ensure their actions will not harm threatened and endangered species.
This will revive a decades-old practice under the Endangered Species Act, which required agencies to either consult the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Such requirement was halted by the Bush administration on Dec. 16, which allowed agencies to waive this review if decided on their own that their actions wouldn’t create any harm to at-risk species.
Scientists and environmentalists welcomed the move, but business officials said it could delay federally funded projects that could play a part in stimulating the nation’s troubled economy.
ANNA OPALKA compiles SCIENCE SCENE and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.