The Louisville Zoo is heartbroken to announce that its beloved elephant calf, Fitz, passed away after a brief battle with hemorrhagic disease. This disease (EEHV-HD) was caused by elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus, more widely known as the EEHV virus. Fitz was the offspring of 37-year-old elephant Mikki and would have turned 4 years old on August 2, 2023.
Elephants Mikki and Punch appear to be behaving normally and are being closely monitored by Zoo staff for any behavioral or medical changes.
While most elephants worldwide are believed to be born with or exposed to the EEHV virus shortly after birth, it often remains dormant in their bodies. It is unknown what leads the virus to cause hemorrhagic disease — EEHV-HD. Many elephants can fight off the disease, but it is much harder for weaned calves, who are no longer protected by their mother’s antibodies.
Our entire team of keepers and vets had been working around-the-clock to help the elephant calf with support from AZA-accredited zoos around the country.
Fitz held a special place within our Zoo family. His presence at our Zoo touched the hearts of our entire community, inspiring a profound appreciation for elephants and the conservation of our planet’s wildlife. His impact will live on, along with his memory, in the hearts of all who encountered him. He will be deeply missed.
How can the public show their support?
We thank our community for their kind words during this very difficult time as well as the cards, artwork, photos and flowers that have been dropped off at the Zoo showing your support.
Friday, June 30 at 5 p.m.
Fitz continues to be under 24-hour care as staff monitors his condition, provides aggressive treatments and collects blood samples to send for testing daily to measure the level of virus in his system. He is eating and his condition remains stable.
His current treatment includes antiviral medications, plasma transfusions, as well as fluid and other supportive therapies to help fight the virus. Accredited zoos around the country including Birmingham Zoo, Dallas Zoo, Indianapolis Zoo, Houston Zoo, Jacksonville Zoo, Sedgwick Zoo, Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo, Pittsburgh Zoo, Sedgwick Zoo, Houston Zoo, among others have reached out to the Louisville Zoo to offer assistance, guidance, as well as blood and plasma donations for Fitz’s transfusions.
Thursday, June 29
- Fitz continues to receive treatments
Wednesday, June 28
- Smithsonian confirms EEHV2 in Fitz
- Fitz receives treatment
Tuesday, June 27
- Fitz’s blood was drawn and sent to the Smithsonian
- Proactive treatment begins
Sunday, June 25
- Punch alerted staff to a possible issue with Fitz
What is EEHV?
EEHV (elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus) is a type of herpesvirus that can cause fatal hemorrhagic disease (HD) in elephants. EEHV-HD one of the deadliest diseases in elephants worldwide both in the wild and in human managed care.
The virus is carried naturally by Asian and African elephants. It is thought almost all elephants are either born with, or exposed shortly after birth to, EEHV. The virus often remains dormant but may cause hemorrhagic disease in individuals when their immune system is developing.
Research is ongoing but there is still much to learn before we fully understand this disease and how and why it manifests itself in some elephants and not in others.
What is the difference between EEHV and EEHV-HD?
EEHV is elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus, a type of herpes virus specific to elephants. The virus can cause hemorrhagic disease (EEHV-HD) which results in internal bleeding. Just as the chicken pox virus may cause shingles as adults, the reason for the activation of the disease is unknown at this time.
Does this disease only effect Zoo animals?
The EEHV-HD is a devastating viral disease for elephants worldwide. EEHV-HD strikes elephants in the wild as well as in zoos and sanctuaries. No other animals or people are at risk from the virus.
Which elephants are most susceptible to EEHV-HD?
The disease most often affects younger elephants, who are between weaning from their mother and fully developing their own adult immunities.
Both African and Asian elephants have battled, and many have ultimately died from, this disease.
This disease does not discriminate between elephants living in human managed care and elephants in the wild. Whether it’s a calf at a zoo or the young animals in a wild herd, the disease can strike without an evident cause or reason.
What are the symptoms of EEHV?
The virus can cause hemorrhagic disease. When an elephant is showing clinical symptoms of the disease, they may include lethargy and unwillingness to eat, a rapid heartbeat, decreased white blood cell and platelet count, and fluid build-up (edema).
How is EEHV Hemorrhagic disease (HD) treated?
When EEHV-HD is confirmed by a blood test, the elephant is treated with large doses of antiviral medications, blood and plasma transfusions, fluid support, as well as stem cell and other supportive therapies.
Can elephants survive bouts with EEHV-HD?
Elephants showing symptoms can potentially recover if diagnosed and aggressively treated early in the course of the disease.
Calves appear to be most susceptible to the disease after they have been weaned and are no longer protected by their mother’s antibodies.
Is EEHV preventable?
There is currently no vaccine for EEHV, and the disease is not preventable.
However, the treatment protocols continue to improve, and detection and treatment recommendations continue to evolve.
It’s important to know there are a lot of talented and committed people working on the challenge. Zoos are helping fund and participate in scientific research focused on finding a vaccine to protect elephants from EEHV-HD.
What date was Fitz diagnosed?
The elephant care team first noticed signs of the EEHV hemorrhagic disease (HD) on Sunday, June 25, when Fitz was acting somewhat lethargic. A blood sample was sent to the Smithsonian Zoo. Proactive treatment began on June 27. The EEHV-HD diagnosis was confirmed on June 28.
How did Fitz contract the disease?
Most elephants worldwide are believed to be born or exposed to EEHV shortly after birth, but it often remains dormant in their bodies. It remains unknown what activates the disease to become EEHV-HD. Many adult elephants can fight off the disease, but it is much harder for weaned calves since they are no longer protected by their mother’s antibodies.
What other Zoos have been involved?
Birmingham Zoo, Dallas Zoo, Indianapolis Zoo, Houston Zoo, Jacksonville Zoo, Sedgwick Zoo, Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo, Pittsburgh Zoo, Sedgwick Zoo, Houston Zoo, among others.
What does treatment look like?
Treatment includes antiviral medications, blood and plasma transfusions, as well as stem cell, fluid and other supportive therapies to help fight the virus.
How are Mikki and Punch doing? Are they mourning?
We know that elephants experience a range of emotions, are capable of remembering and are aware when something is different. Mikki and Punch were able to see Fitz before and after his passing. Right now, elephants Mikki and Punch appear to be behaving normally and will be closely monitored by Zoo staff for any changes.
Are there concerns for Mikki and Punch contracting the disease?
Most elephants worldwide are believed to be born or exposed to the virus shortly after birth, but it often remains dormant in their bodies. It is unknown why the virus causes hemorrhagic disease. Many elephants can potentially fight off EEHV-HD with aggressive early treatment, but it is harder for weaned calves since they are no longer protected by their mother’s antibodies.
Does Mikki or Punch have the disease?
Most elephants worldwide are believed to be born or exposed to the virus shortly after birth, but it often remains dormant in their bodies. Mikki is confirmed to have a dormant strain of EEHV, but it is not the same strain that is caused EEHV-HD in Fitz. It is extremely rare for EEHV to trigger hemorrhagic disease in elephants older than 13.
Will Mikki have another calf?
As we do with all animals at the Zoo, we continue to evaluate what management situation is in her best interest.
What happens to Fitz’s body?
Tissues and other samples will be saved for future research to add to the canon of what we know about elephants. Fitz will then be cremated and laid to rest in a private location.
What is the future of elephants at the Louisville Zoo?
The Zoo is still mourning Fitz. We are committed to providing the best care for these two adult elephants who have been longtime companions. All options will be considered.
Is this the same disease that elephant calf Scotty had?
This is not the same disease. Scotty passed in 2010 due to complications of colic, not EEHV-HD.
Did Fitz receive the COVID-19 vaccine?
No, our elephants did not receive a vaccine for COVID-19
How can the public show their support?
We thank our community for their kind words during this very difficult time as well as the cards, artwork, photos and flowers that have been dropped off at the Zoo showing your support. For those who would like to honor Fitz, an area has been designated at the front of the Zoo to leave your remembrances. These items will be brought in nightly for safekeeping and then put out again for display each morning in the coming week.