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Monday, April 25, 2011

Water for Elephants is Not Enough: The Disease that is Killing Baby Elephants

Posted by Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
April 25, 2011

Like millions of other movie-goers, I watched Water For Elephants on opening weekend. As remarkable as the story and the acting by Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattinson, Christoph Waltz and supporting cast was, it was elephant Rosie’s performance that was totally captivating. Her grace and elegance, her ability to collapse, expand and trumpet that 9,000-pound frame was nothing short of breath taking.

Foreground: Tai, who stars as Rosie in "Water for Elephants", and her nephew, JP, who succumbed to a devastating Herpes viral infection in February, 2011. Please consider donating to the research efforts to stomp out this killer. Photo provided by Kari and Gary Johnson, Have Trunk Will Travel.

As Rosie’s veterinarian, Dr. Linda Peddie told me when I interviewed her in February, “Tai (who plays Rosie) is the best-trained and most mature elephant in the world.”
Some people watching the movie were horrified by the images of animal cruelty depicted towards Rosie. However, Gary and Kari Johnson, the husband-and-wife owners and trainers of Tai, were absolutely adamant that nothing harm her, either physically or emotionally. For example, during the depiction of Waltz’s most severe beating of Rosie, the handlers gently moved Tai out of harm’s way. Again Dr. Peddie, “Because Tai has never known mistreatment, she does not view the flailing rampage as anything more than some imbecile beating the air."

Even though there is superb care, veterinary attention, and humane treatment of Tai and the other five elephants at the Johnsons' ranch Have Trunk Will Travel, they have been affected by a devastating and unseen virus that kills elephants worldwide. It is a relatively new viral disease called Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpes Virus (EEHV), and it affects baby elephants in both captivity and in the wild with devastating results. Tai’s “nephew”, a 3½ year-old baby named JP―named in honor of veterinarian Dr. Jim Peddie―died in February, 2011. As is typical of babies with EEHV, the uncontrollable hemorrhaging disease killed JP in less than 48 hours.
JP’s death represented another tragic loss in the elephant world, not only because of the personal anguish at the Have Trunk Will Travel Ranch, but also because it highlights the sad reality that there is as yet neither a cure, nor a vaccine, for this deadly virus.

Research to prevent, manage and treat EEVH is being led by a consortium of veterinarians and biomedical researchers at the following institutions:
·         Smithsonian’s National Zoo
·         Baylor College of Medicine
·         Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine
·         Johns Hopkins University
Please consider Donating!
To support research to stomp out the disease that is responsible for the deaths of about 25% of the baby elephants born in the United States in the last three decades, please donate to:

The International Elephant Foundation (IEF), a 501 C (3) non-profit organization.