Complaint Over Elephant Breeding Raises the Question: Is Chai Infected With Herpes or Not?

Chai's previous baby, Hansa, died from Herpes in 2007
The California organization In Defense of Animals yesterday filed a complaint with the federal Department of Agriculture over the Woodland Park Zoo's repeated attempts to impregnate the elephant known as Chai. The problem, according to the group: The zoo is a hot spot for a deadly elephant strain of the Herpes virus, which can be passed on either through birth or contact (whether sexual or not) with another elephant.

The zoo has already admitted that another female elephant, named Watoto, tested positive for a "faint" strain of the virus in 2008. And the IDA complaint suggests that Chai herself might have Herpes, judging by the death of her last baby from the virus, the zoo's beloved Hansa.

Might have the virus? That would seem pretty important information to know.

But Catherine Doyle, manager of IDA's elephant campaign, says she is unaware of whether the zoo has tested Chai or not. In fact, the zoo claims it has.

Zoo spokesperson Gigi Allianic says that both Chai and another elephant named Bamboo have both tested negative for the virus. But she declines to provide specifics such as when the tests were given.

"Our vets would have to pull records and they do not have the time for this story," Allianic says, adding such diversion of staff time would "feed into" the IDA's campaign.

It's a puzzling response given the negative publicity brought by the issue. If the zoo has evidence that Chai isn't infected, you'd think it would want that information out there.

True, the test results are not definitive, and open to interpretation. (The zoo claimed that Watoto's positive showing didn't mean anything because all elephants carry dormant strains of the virus. IDA disputes this.) But the zoo apparently thought the test was worth doing anyway, so why not cough up all the details?

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