A New York zoo is mourning the loss of its youngest elephant calf, Ajay, who died earlier this week of a lethal virus.
On Tuesday, baby elephant Ajay, who would have turned two next month, died in his enclosure at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse from Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpes Virus (EEHV), a lethal strain of herpes that targets Asian elephants, the zoo shared on Facebook.
According to the zoo, the disease was discovered by the Smithsonian National Zoo Conservation Biology Institute in 1995 and remains the biggest killer of young Asian elephants. It can cause death within 24 hours in those under 8 years old.
Ajay was the second calf born at the zoo to his mother, Mali, and his father, Doc.
Ajay's older brother, Batu, 5, tested positive for the virus last Thursday and he is continuing to receive treatment as he remains at risk, the zoo's director Ted Fox said.
The zoo noted that while the virus levels in Batu's blood have been growing exponentially by the day, he continues to be asymptomatic.
The Rosamond Gifford Zoo is a member of the National Elephant Herpesvirus Laboratory, founded by the Smithsonian, and they send blood samples from its elephants twice a week to monitor for the disease.
While treating Batu, the zoo had been closely monitoring Ajay, who Fox said showed no symptoms until shortly before his death.
"On Monday night, he was playful and happy as usual. By Tuesday morning, there was some swelling around his eyes, and his tongue was slightly darkened, signs that EEHV is active. Although Ajay wanted his morning bath and ate some of his breakfast, he seemed tired," Fox said.
Adding, "Within two hours, despite the tireless efforts of the zoo and Cornell veterinary staff, he was gone. That is how awful this disease is, especially with young elephants. When it hits, it hits hard."
Following Ajay's death, the entire herd was given time to spend with the baby elephant, a common ritual for elephant families in the wild.
The zoo is now focusing on taking care of Batu and keeping him healthy.
"Every institution that works with elephants knows this is a risk," Fox said of the virus.
Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon shared in the post that he and Ajay had a special bond as he was one of the first humans to interact with him after his birth in 2019.
"Ajay was a very special little elephant and I know I speak for our entire Central New York community in expressing my deepest condolences to everyone at the zoo who took such good care of him," McMahon said. "You are in our hearts and you have our support."
Ajay's remains have been taken to Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine to further study EEHV.
Fox added that Ajay will be remembered as "the most precocious baby elephant the zoo ever experienced. He surpassed his older brother at every milestone and could often be seen running up to Batu for a play wrestling match or a dunk in the elephant pool."
"Although he was not invincible to this disease, Ajay definitely had an invincible personality and we will never, ever forget him," he said.
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