World-first vaccine trial starts in UK as elephants drop dead from killer virus

The University of Surrey has started the world's first trial of a potentially life-saving vaccine in elephants.

It comes after a disease called endotheliotrophic herpes virus has been taking out the animals, with a mortality of around 85%.

The virus was first found in 1990 and has fast become a nightmare for zoos.

A study by the Berlin-based vet scientist Sonia Jesus Fontes claimed that it had caused around 52% of deaths of Asian elephants in European zoos since 1985, and 50% of deaths in North American zoos since 1980.

Falko Steinbach, a professor of Veterinary Immunology at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Surrey told BBC News: “We know it's almost impossible to prevent infection – we're trying to prevent serious disease and death.

"Our aim is to give them a prime before infection.

“So the elephant's immune system knows the virus and is on the front foot."

"We're using established, safe processes.

“And it's important to move ahead with a trial in elephants because there is no other animal we can test this in.”

The trial has started at Chester Zoo.

Zookeeper Katie said that it is only possible because of the “mutual respect” between the animals and their human handlers.

She said: “We encourage them to interact with us. But if they don't want to, that's fine. We'll leave them to it and try later.

“We've lost elephants usually between the ages of 18 months and three years.

“When we see symptoms – lethargy, mouth lesions – it's usually too late.”
The disease normally affects younger animals, with just one in five calves under the age of five surviving at the zoo since 2010.

The other deaths were confirmed to be caused by EEHV.

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