Houston zoo: Circus-like performances and a correlation of distress and EEHV

Houston zoo/Texas entertains by marketing performances of its elephants. According to “YourHoustonNews.com”, two and a half year old “Tupelo” received instuctions publicly, while her mother “Tess” had to do a few circus-like handstands in the presence of several reporters. To round out this entertainment programme, the 2nd breeding female, “Methai”, created some paintings by using a paintbrush. http://www.yourhoustonnews.com/bellaire/news/houston-zoo-elephants-show-off-their-talent/article_80260c85-c80a-5f24-9a43-529afdac4738.html

Those „tricks“ are nothing but animal cruelty and may cause painful and incurable joint diseases in elephants. There is no justification for scientificly-led zoos to hold on to these archaic exercises and associated training methods.

In addition, Houston zoo is well-known in the “elephant scene” for the loss of at least 6 of its 14 zoo-born calves by Elephant endotheliotropic herpesviruses (EEHV). “Singgha”, “Kimba” and “Mac” died aged 7, 13 and 2 years, caused by EEHV. “Pearl”, “Kiba” and “Bopper” died for the same reason aged 3, 11 and 4 years, each one within a few months after being transferred to another zoo. Several more calves died due to unidentified causes; EEVH is a possible cause. Only two calves are alive today and since both are born in 2010, they have just now reached the critical age. Once an individual gets infected with one of the many stains of EEVH, the infection will stay present for life. However, this does not necessarily have to affect the animal, as long as it stays on a latent level. But if an infection becomes active, it manifests very quickly - an outbreak might end up lethally within days or even hours. Most commonly affected animals are young Asian elephants below the age of adolescence. Medical treatment, e.g. use of famciclovir, is only partially effective. An effective vaccination to prevent individuals from infection is still not available.

Thus, research on certain triggers and how to prevent an active outbreak would be advisable. In case of many herpes viruses, permanent distress is identified as a main trigger. To dominate  wild animals like elephants in order to establish the keeper as human super-alpha is only possible by violence and suppressing of natural herd behaviour. Elephant training for show purposes is not based on natural behaviour neither.

In zoos that insist on those anachronistic performances, brutal training for zoo-born calves usually start during their first months of life and likely leads to permanent distress – which could trigger a fatal virus attack of an infected animal.

Unfortunately, this is totally ignored by the affected zoos. As long as the elephant management in those institutions proceeds unmodified, an important tool to avoid fatal EEVH outbreaks is ignored – keeping elephant calves as stress-free as possible. It is not surprising that young elephants in zoos which submit their elephant calves to cruel training methods for circus shows like Houston Zooo (USA) and Whipsnade Zoo  (UK) have a higher-than-average rate of offspring succumbing to EEHV.



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