Zoos Accused of Violating Federal Law With Dangerous Elephant Breeding Practices
In Defense of Animals (IDA) filed multiple complaints with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) this week, charging that elephant breeding practices at four zoos violate the federal Animal Welfare Act by knowingly exposing offspring to a high risk of infection with the mostly-fatal Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesvirus (EEHV). Included are the Houston Zoo, Oklahoma City Zoo, St. Louis Zoo and the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle.
In the complaints, IDA cited the high risks for infection with the deadly disease at each zoo, based its history of EEHV:
• The Houston Zoo has long been considered a “hot spot” for EEHV. Six calves born at the zoo died from the virus. Currently, four of the zoo’s five elephants have tested positive for EEHV, including two pregnant females, Shanti and Tess.
• The Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle lost a young elephant, Hansa, to the virus in 2007, and holds an African elephant who tested positive. Yet the zoo recently artificially inseminated Hansa’s mother, Chai.
• The Oklahoma City Zoo, which sent two females to the Tulsa Zoo for breeding, is attempting to impregnate the elephant Chandra, an EEHV survivor and likely a carrier. A second elephant, Asha, who was likely exposed to the virus, is already pregnant.
• The St. Louis Zoo has two elephant calves who were stricken with the virus in 2009; one was asymptomatic and treated, the other required drastic veterinary treatment and recovered but experienced a relapse in December. The calves would have contracted the virus from their mothers or other elephants at the zoo.
Little is known about EEHV, though the overwhelming evidence indicates it primarily strikes young Asian elephants in captivity, usually causing death through massive internal hemorrhaging. Almost 40 percent of Asian elephants born in AZA-accredited zoos in the last 12 years have succumbed to the disease. Stricken elephants have a mortality rate near 90 percent.