Researchers work on vaccine to save Asian elephants

The virus Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpes Virus (EEHV) is the most common cause of death among young Asian elephants. Death often occurs within 24 hours after the first visible symptoms, regardless of the veterinarians' efforts. The Asian elephant is an endangered species. This week saw the start of a campaign to raise money for the development of a vaccine for this virus.

Cause of death number one

Immunologist Professor Dr Victor Rutten and virologist Dr Xander de Haan of the Utrecht University Faculty of Veterinary Medicine lead the research project. Rutten says: “In zoos and in the wild, the EEHV virus is cause of death number one among Asian elephants between the ages of 1 and 8 years. This makes the development of a vaccine and an effective treatment essential, both to young elephants and to the continued existence of the species.”


Unfortunately, this kind of research does not qualify for full funding from the regular university cash flows. This is why Friends of VetMed Utrecht University set up this campaign to raise the needed funds after all. ZOO Planckendael in Belgium, the DierenPark Amersfoort Wildlife Fund and the Stichting Animales are among the first to support the project financially. The Utrecht University Fund also supports the project in 2020 in their annual Doorgeven campaign. Drs. Willem Schaftenaar, a veterinarian and an advisor of this research project, says: “In the past 20 years in which I worked as a veterinary advisor for the European elephant population, I've seen many young Asian elephants die of EEHV. The virus makes quick work of them. It's almost impossible to diagnose in an early stage. When the symptoms become visible, it's usually too late and they die in a couple of days. It's a very nasty disease that we have to do something about.”


Zoological director of Zoo Planckendael Dr Linda van Elsacker explains: “Qyio's death last year impacted everyone, from employees to visitors at our zoo. We then started a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for the development of a vaccine, and we are very pleased that we can take a very important first step with the beautiful sum of € 75,000.” ‘Mr Zoo’ Marjo Hoedemaker, famous for his elephant-related activities, is an ambassador for the project and devotes himself to raising support. “The numbers of wild elephants have already been on the decline for decades. That's why the Asian elephants kept in European zoos are of crucial importance to the survival of the species. This is an extraordinarily important project, that I love to work for.”

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*The Friends of VetMed Utrecht University fund is a part of the Utrecht University Fund, which is recognised by the Dutch Tax and Customs Authority as an Algemeen Nut Beogende Instelling (ANBI). The RSIN number is 2610577. All received donations will only be spent on the relevant projects. Friends of VetMed does not raise funds for overhead costs or exploitation costs.