Odisha turns to Smithsonian Institute to tackle herpes virus

Visitors throng Nandankanan Zoological Par

BHUBANESWAR: With herpes virus infection at Nandankanan Zoological Park here turning endemic, the wildlife wing of the Forest and Environment department has sought help of experts from the US-based Smithsonian Institute.

The wildlife wing has apprised Director General of Forests under Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change Siddhanta Das about the Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpes virus (EEHV) that has claimed four elephants in the zoo in 24 days. With this, the total number of elephants in the zoo has come down from eight to four.

“Since cases of EEHV had been reported from North America some years back, the researchers at the Smithsonian Institute have expertise on curbing spread of this virus,” said PCCF (Wildlife) Hari Shankar Upadhyay adding that the State wildlife wing has urged the institute to send its experts to Odisha at the earliest. “Death of elephants due to herpesvirus at Nandankanan is a case that is being reported for the first time from any zoo in the country,” he said.

Apart from seeking help of the Smithsonian Institute, Upadhyay said they are in touch with the Central Zoo Authority (CZA) as well as the Veterinary Research Institute (IVRI), Bareilly.

Nandankanan Zoo director Shashi Paul has also urged the CZA to issue a protocol on the near-fatal virus.

Meanwhile, to bring situation into control, zoo authorities have convened a technical committee meeting to review the method of treatment. As no vaccine to contain the spread of the virus has been developed, the zoo authorities have also kept the remaining four elephants in isolation and are giving them anti-viral doses.

Besides, disinfection of the zoo area is also being conducted, said Nandankanan zoo deputy director Jayant Kumar Das adding that an expert from Kerala’s Wildlife Wing has been requested to visit the State at the earliest.

“The doctor having expertise on herpesvirus is likely to visit the State this week,” Das said.

According to sources, researchers at Smithsonian’s National Zoo were the first to identify EEHV in 1995. Since then, they have carried out extensive researches making significant discoveries on the biology of EEHV.

The zoo’s National Elephant Herpesvirus Laboratory  is also said to be a major source of herpesvirus information, testing and research for the global elephant community.