The Rosamond Gifford Zoo is mourning the loss of the newest member of its elephant community.

The Syracuse zoo announced in a press release that its youngest elephant, Ajay, died unexpectedly on Tuesday from Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpes Virus, a lethal strain of herpes that targets Asian elephants.

According to the press release, Ajay's 5-year-old brother Batu tested positive for EEHV last Thursday and although he had no symptoms, the zoo and a veterinary team from Cornell University began aggressively treating Batu and kept a close eye on Ajay.

Rosamond Gifford Zoo Director Ted Fox said Ajay showed no symptoms of the virus until Tuesday morning, when vets noticed the area around his eyes had swelled, his tongue had darkened, and he seemed tired.

"Within two hours, despite the tireless efforts of the zoo and Cornell veterinary staff, he was gone" Fox said in the press release. "That is how awful this disease is, especially with young elephants. When it hits, it hits hard."

Ajay was just under two years old and would have celebrated his second birthday at the zoo on January 15.

Rosamond Gifford Zoo
Rosamond Gifford Zoo

Fox said the entire herd got to spend time with Ajay after his death, as elephants do in the wild. While the zoo staff is shocked and stricken with grief, they are now focused on treating Batu, who remains in treatment and is still at risk.

According to the press release, Ajay was transported to Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine and will contribute to the ongoing study of EEHV, hopefully preventing future tragedies in Asian elephants.

Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon was one of the first humans to interact with Ajay when the elephant calf was first introduced to the public in 2019 and spoke fondly of his time with him.

"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 in the press release. "You are in our hearts and you have our support."

Ajay's name was chosen by the public last year during an online vote  and means "invincible" in Sanskrit.

"Although he was not invincible to this disease, Ajay definitely had an invincible personality and we will never, ever forget him," Fox said.

Rosamond Gifford Zoo
Rosamond Gifford Zoo

You may remember this video of Ajay and Batu blowing up balloons earlier this year in honor of older elephants Siri and Romani's birthdays.

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