Elephant Calves in India’s Kerala More Vulnerable to Herpes, Study Warns

Elephant Calf at Dhikala, Corbett Tiger Reserve; Photo by M. Karthikeyan

A failure to conduct a thorough probe of different strains of Herpes virus in elephants may rob Kerala’s forests of all baby elephants, warns a state forest department veterinarian.

The herpes virus that killed 26 elephants over the past 10 years, mostly young ones, both in the wild and captive, had different strains depending on the region they were in like Munnar, Wayanad and Nilambur, the Times of India reports.


In a paper titled `Impact of diseases in wildlife conservation’ at the sixth international conference on NextGen Genomics, Biology , Bioinformatics and Technologies (NGBT) in Kochi, veterinarian Arun Zachariah said that this information came when a full DNA sequencing of the virus found in the elephants was done and analysed. “We are now doing a detailed analysis of the genetic profile of the virus,” he added.

He said the animals died within 48 hours of contracting the virus. “We spent several days monitoring the animals in the wild and realized that the virus was oozing out in the trunk leaks of adult elephants which infected the young ones in the herd. We are trying to understand the relation between the three parameters, pathogen (virus), host (elephants) and environment (climate), and what is the causative trigger,” he said.

Forest officials are testing the samples of the dead animals in their lab in Wayanad to understand the disease ecology.

“If the disease is not tamed, we will not have any juvenile elephants in the next five years. The state will have to address the species conservation also,” said Zachariah.

He said that they were also studying the malaria virus found in the monkeys which led to the death of 180 animals and 10 humans last year. “We found that the Kyasanur forest disease (KFD) virus strain resembled that of the samples taken during the 1957 outbreak in Karnataka which killed several animals. The ticks are the carriers and their population had gone up. We are looking at the possibility of climate change triggering a boost in the population of ticks.”

The forest department is now trying to identify the major diseases and its implications on conservation of free ranging wild animals in Western Ghats. Diseases are considered to be a threat to wildlife conservation as it is mainly attributed to the spill over into the human population. Climate change and increase in vector borne diseases are also a major concern.