The Louisville Zoo is heartbroken to announce that beloved elephant calf, Fitz, passed away after a brief battle with endotheliotropic herpesvirus, more widely known as the EEHV virus. Fitz was the offspring of 37-year-old elephant Mikki and would have turned 4 years old on August 2, 2023. EEHV is a hemorrhagic disease that aggressively affects blood cells. There’s no vaccine against the virus and survival rates are typically 20 to 30 percent.
Elephant care staff first noticed signs of lethargy in young elephant Fitz on Sunday, June 25. A blood sample was sent to the National EEHV lab and pre-emptive care began on Tuesday, June 27. The EEHV diagnosis was confirmed by blood test results on Wednesday, June 28. Around-the-clock care was delivered by animal health and animal care teams. Fitz’s treatment during this time included antiviral medications, plasma transfusions every 8 hours, as well as fluid and other supportive therapies. Accredited zoos and leading experts across the country reached out to share their experience with the disease and offer support as well as banked and fresh plasma and blood donations from their elephants.
Fitz was tired but had been standing and eating some food earlier in the day on Friday, June 30, 2023. However, his condition took a turn for the worse Friday evening. Fitz passed away during his nighttime treatment shortly after 11 p.m. A necropsy will be performed and any additional information from the results will be released later.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of elephant Fitz,” said Louisville Zoo Director, Dan Maloney. “Fitz held a special place within our entire extended Zoo family. His presence at our Zoo touched the hearts of our members, patrons and our entire community, inspiring a profound appreciation for elephants and their conservation. Our animal and medical teams performed outstandingly. They worked tirelessly under very challenging circumstances, but sadly, despite their remarkable efforts, we were unable to save him. Fitz’s impact will live on, along with his memory, in the hearts of all who encountered him. He will be deeply missed.”
EEHV is one of the most serious medical issues facing zoo and wild elephants. Most elephants are believed to be born with or exposed to the virus shortly after birth. This virus can remain latent in their bodies for years. It is unknown what leads the virus to cause hemorrhagic disease. Some elephants can fight off the disease, but it is harder for weaned calves who are no longer protected by antibodies from their mother’s milk. Fitz had recently been weaned, and because there is no vaccine and no known prevention for the disease, he was routinely monitored and tested for signs of EEHV.
Mom Mikki is confirmed to have a latent form of EEHV, but it is not the same strain that affected Fitz. No other animals, guests or staff are at risk from the virus. Elephants Mikki and Punch appear to be behaving normally and will be closely monitored by Zoo staff for any changes.
Further information will be shared soon about how the community may join in honoring Fitz. The Louisville Zoo thanks our donors, board members, Zoo partners, and our community for their continued support during this very difficult time.