Cincinnati Zoo Takes Proactive Health Measures to Protect Elephant Herd

Posted June 10, 2024

Plasma transfusions given to young elephants to boost antibody response

CINCINNATI, OH (June 10, 2024) – The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden is taking proactive measures to keep its Asian elephant herd healthy. To achieve its long-term goal for the new habitat, Elephant Trek, to one day be home to a multi-generational herd, vets and elephant keepers are working hard to protect the elephants from contracting Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesvirus – EEHV, or at least mitigating the severity if they do.  To that end, the two young males that arrived in November recently received plasma transfusions from one of the Zoo’s long-time elephant residents.

Photos (elephants in yard for first time | video with interviews

“EEHV is a major threat to elephants in the North American population.  Zoos with elephants have been working together to understand what can be done to combat this deadly virus, and one of our partners reported promising results from performing a plasma transfusion,” said Christina Gorsuch, Cincinnati Zoo’s director of animal care and a leader of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE) Asian Elephant program. “We also set up a dedicated EEHV lab so we can test the elephants regularly and act swiftly if one shows symptoms.”

The hope is that the plasma transfusions will boost the young elephants’ antibody response against the EEHV virus. To prepare for future transfusions, the Zoo took on the monumental task of identifying potential donors from other Zoos and now has a database of which elephants are compatible with which.

The keeper team has also done amazing work to train the older elephants to do voluntary blood draws.  “We’ve done blood draws from the elephants’ ears for a long time.  You need much more blood to get the amount of plasma that we need, so we’ve trained them to allow us to take blood from the inside of their back leg, which is a much bigger vessel. This behavior took a lot of trust and time to teach, but the older elephants are now participating and we’re getting what we need.”

“Not all elephants have compatible blood for donation, so options are limited,” said Cincinnati Zoo veterinarian Dr. Jess Heinz. “We now know which donors are a match for the boys and can bank plasma from them. It may be used as a precaution as the elephants are introduced to the Zoo’s older elephants, or it may be used if they show signs of illness.”

Bull elephant Sabu will return from the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, his temporary home for the past two years, later this summer and will be introduced to the four elephants that are in Elephant Trek, including the young males.  The three females that are in Elephant Reserve will be integrated into the big herd after that.
Elephant Trek will open to the public in the early fall and, in addition to elephants, will be home to Asian small-clawed otters, siamangs, and other animals and plants native to Asia.

The Zoo is open daily from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Members enjoy early entry starting at 9 a.m.

DID YOU KNOW…. You pay more than $10 less per ticket, on select days, when you purchase tickets online!  That’s a $40 savings for a family of 4!