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Animal Protection Organization Charges Unnatural Conditions for Elephants Caused Hansa’s Death

San Rafael, Calif.—In Defense of Animals (IDA) is charging that the cause of death for Hansa, a six-and-a-half-year-old Asian elephant who died in June at Woodland Park Zoo, is directly related to unnatural zoo conditions.

“Hansa is the latest victim of a zoo industry that knowingly and irresponsibly subjects elephants to unnatural, inadequate conditions that lead to illness, suffering, and premature death,” stated veterinarian and IDA president Dr. Elliot M. Katz.

Hansa, who died after suffering from signs of colic for a week, reportedly has died from a previously undiscovered form of the elephant herpesvirus.

Woodland Park Zoo records show that Hansa’s mother, Chai, had been sent to Dickerson Park Zoo for breeding in 1998, where there has been a problem with the elephant herpesvirus. Because of concern over the virus, Hansa was screened for the disease shortly after her birth and a supply of anti-viral drugs was ordered in case she required treatment. Onyx, the father of Hansa, sired two other calves who died after being treated for symptoms of elephant herpesvirus.

Little is known about the transmission of the elephant herpesvirus, though it is thought to be transferred from African elephants, who are not affected by it, to Asian elephants, for whom the disease is fatal in almost all cases. Asian elephants may also infect other Asians; the disease primarily affects young elephants. Woodland Park Zoo holds both species of elephants.

While African and Asian elephants are now held separately in most zoos, many Asian elephants previously may have been housed with African elephants or may have been exposed to Asian elephant carriers of the disease during transfers to other zoos. According to experts, transfers between facilities increase the risk of transmission, and handlers that work with both species in the same facility – especially those working in the circus-style training system where there is close contact with the elephant, as is practiced at Woodland Park Zoo – could act as vectors of the disease even if Asian and African elephants are housed separately.

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