Malti, an elephant calf who was born at the Calgary Zoo a year ago, has died from a virus few pachyderms have survived.
The Asian elephant showed symptoms of elephant herpesvirus earlier this week, and succumbed to the virus just one day after blood tests confirmed her condition, said heartbroken zoo officials on Saturday.
Malti woke up from a nap on Saturday afternoon, struggled to get up and then collapsed and died within a couple of minutes, said Laurie Herron, the zoo's communications director.
"Three of her six keepers were with her at the time and as you can imagine all of them are very so profoundly sad by this whole thing," she said.
"They were very attached to her. She was like a child to them and part of their family — part of our family at the zoo."
Elephant herpesvirus, a disease that leads to internal bleeding that can overwhelm the heart, has been responsible for the deaths of nearly a dozen young elephants in North American zoos over the past 20 years.
Only four elephants have survived elephant herpesvirus with early treatment. The virus has been known to kill animals within a week of infection.
Because the virus is specific to species, it's likely that Malti contracted it from one of the four adult elephants, said zoo officials.
Adult elephants have more resistance to the disease and can carry it without being noticeably ill. There is no evidence of transfer of the virus to people or to other non-elephant species.
"We can only hope we will learn something from Malti's case that will benefit the research into this disease to help save other elephants in the future," said Cathy Gaviller, director of conservation, research and education at the Calgary Zoo.
Other animal deaths in recent years
Zoo officials have been struggling with the deaths of various animals in recent years.
Four years ago, Malti's mother, Maharani, rejected a calf who later died.
In May, 41 of 43 stingrays at the zoo's touch-tank mysteriously died. Various tests could not determine their cause of death.
In November 2007, a hippo died after a 29-hour road trip to the Calgary Zoo from the Denver Zoo in a climate-controlled truck. It's believed the animal lay in one position in her crate for too long, damaging muscles that released toxins into her system.