POWELL, Ohio (WCMH) — Elephants at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium are under the watchful eye of several researchers and veterinarians to ensure they stay healthy from an infectious disease known as elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus, or EEHV.
“It’s very quick moving,” said Dan Wallon, a veterinary technician at the zoo. “By the time that you see visual signs, the patient could already be too far gone.”
Wallon said the disease is not only life-threatening but time-sensitive, able to cause death within elephants in less than 72 hours. In fact, the virus took the life of one of Columbus’ own elephants last year.
However, Wallon is leading a new DNA testing lab at the Columbus Zoo, which is able to look for signs of the disease several days or even weeks in advance.
“Those samples are brought to me. I can extract the DNA from them through various processes,” Wallon said.
Wallon said this is done through weekly tests that are taken during trunk washes or blood samples.
Furthermore, the Columbus Zoo is one of only four laboratories in the country able to test for the virus, due to a partnership with the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, putting central Ohio at the forefront of helping to diagnose and potentially save elephants’ lives.
“Elephants are most susceptible between the ages of about 2 and 15, so we’ve got our little one Frankie right now, who is right about that two years of age, so we are keeping a close eye on him,” Wallon said. “But luckily, it looks like he’s showing a good immune response to everything.”
The Columbus Zoo’s partnership with the Smithsonian also allows it to provide assistance to other institutions that send DNA samples for testing.