After a fight for his life that lasted just over a week, a second elephant at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo has died.

The Syracuse zoo's 5-year-old elephant, Batu, died Friday morning after he contracted Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpes Virus. He tested positive for the virus the previous Thursday, and the zoo's elephant team and a veterinary team from Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine immediately got to work, beginning aggressive treatments of anti-viral and herpes medicines, as well as plasma infusions from his herd mate Romani.

Rosamond Gifford Zoo
Rosamond Gifford Zoo

Batu's younger brother, Ajay, a nearly-2-year-old elephant at the zoo, died Tuesday from EEHV as well.

In a press release, Zoo Director Ted Fox said that while the team, and members from other institutions within the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, worked tirelessly all week to save Batu, the "'viral load' of EEHV in his blood grew by the day."

"This is obviously the worst possible outcome, and it occurred after more than a week of intensive care by our team in hopes that every day Batu survived gave him a better chance to beat this horrible disease," Fox said, noting that eight days after testing positive, Batu "laid down to rest and never got up."

According to the zoo, EEHV is the "most devastating viral disease in elephants" across the globe, and can kill young Asian elephants under age 8 within just 24 hours.

In the zoo's press release, Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon called the loss of Batu and Ajay "incomprehensible."

"Although we knew this could happen, it’s hard to accept," McMahon said. "Words can’t begin to express our sadness and grief. Yet we know that as heartbroken as we are, our elephant team and our zoo need our support more than ever."

As they were after Ajay's death, the zoo's six adult elephants were allowed to spend time with Batu after his death, as elephants do in the wild. Both elephants' remains will be transported to Cornell to contribute to ongoing EEHV research.

"They succeeded in doing exactly what they were here to do – to win the hearts of people and inspire them to care about a species that’s in trouble halfway around the world," Fox said. "If [the community's] love for Batu and Ajay leads people to care about saving Asian elephants from extinction, that would be a great way to honor them."

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