For Release: December 5, 2011
Communications Office (202) 633-3055
The International Elephant Foundation (IEF) is thrilled to announce another major grant to help fund the National Elephant Herpesvirus Laboratory (NEHL) at the Smithsonian's National Zoo. Major donors of 2011's $52,000 grant include Alex Rines and Vinnie Christiano – fifth graders and best friends, whose fundraising efforts, dubbed "Pennies for Pachyderms," brought attention to the problem in the Buffalo, New York region. In addition, Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, Feld Entertainment, Have Trunk Will Travel, the Oregon Zoo, and the Saint Louis Zoo were all major donors to fund IEF's grant to the NEHL lab through the Smithsonian's National Zoo.
EEHV is the number one cause of death of young Asian elephants in human care and it is also found in wild populations.
"IEF's mission is to support elephant conservation programs including scientific research that enhance the survival of elephants worldwide," said IEF Executive Director, Deborah Olson. "We believe it is imperative to find management and treatment solutions to this devastating disease for the long-term survival of all populations of elephants."
The National Elephant Herpesvirus Laboratory at the Smithsonian's National Zoo, with partner researchers at Johns Hopkins University, are the leading worldwide resource of herpesvirus information, testing and research for the global elephant community. Researchers focus on diagnosing elephants in North America and researching new methods of testing for the various strains of elephant herpesvirus. Genetics research also focuses on understanding EEHV and the family of genes that helps determine how resistant elephants are to infectious diseases, including tuberculosis and the herpesviruses.
"This is a virus we're just beginning to understand," said NEHL research specialist Erin Latimer. "What we're trying to figure out is what triggers the virus to become active and where exactly in the body the virus hides in its latent phase. We don't yet know why some animals become ill and others don't, but with our research we're working to discover which elephants get ill and when."
IEF has donated more than $200,000 to the NEHL since 2008.
"The National Zoo was the first to identify EEHV and we are committed to continuing this important research as one of the leaders in the field," said Dennis Kelly, director of the Smithsonian's National Zoo. "We're honored that IEF has chosen the NEHL at the National Zoo to be a recipient of another grant in order to do so. And we thank the North American elephant community that has helped support us through IEF."
EEHV is an often fatal disease that usually infects baby elephants in zoos and in the wild. In zoos where the virus has been studied the most, this elephant-specific disease has a mortality rate estimated between 80 and 90 percent and has been the cause of death of approximately 25 percent of the Asian elephants born in North America since 1978. In North America, only nine elephants are known to have survived the disease. IEF, in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Cornell University, and Baylor College of Medicine, has been at the forefront of finding treatment and prevention measures to stop this lethal disease.
As a non-profit organization dedicated to elephant welfare, IEF solicits donations to fund worthy conservation and research projects worldwide. To learn more about IEF or to contribute to elephant conservation efforts, visit IEF's website at www.elephantconservation.org. With minimal administrative costs, IEF is able to dedicate more than 90 percent of its budget directly toward elephant conservation programs worldwide.
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