Centrifuge aids OKC Zoo’s animal care experts in treating its elephants for EEHV, a naturally occurring virus, and ability to support other AZA-zoos caring for elephants.

The Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden and Oklahoma Blood Institute (OBI) are coming together to help save an endangered species, Asian elephants. OBI recently donated an industrial grade, centrifuge machine to the OKC Zoo for its Joan Kirkpatrick Animal Hospital.

The Zoo is committed to providing the best care possible for its animals and this specialized centrifuge machine will be used for treating its Asian elephants for the elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV), a naturally occurring virus that affects wild elephants and those in human care. The Zoo’s veterinary care team will use the centrifuge to prepare blood and plasma for possible transfusions during the treatment process for an elephant fighting illness. Having this centrifuge on-site also allows the Zoo to be a resource for other AZA-member zoos caring for an elephant undergoing EEHV treatment while further supporting its commitment to EEHV research and preparedness.

“We are extremely grateful to OBI for their generous gift of this centrifuge,” said Dr. Jennifer D’Agostino, OKC Zoo’s director of veterinary services. “Having this invaluable tool here at the Joan Kirkpatrick Animal Hospital enables us to save precious time when treating an elephant for EEHV and provide life-saving care such as whole blood and plasma transfusions during treatment. This will also allow us to serve as a resource for other AZA-member zoos treating elephants for EEHV.”

“Blood is a remarkable gift whether it is given person to person or elephant to elephant,” said John Armitage, M.D. president and CEO of Oklahoma Blood Institute. “We are honored to partner with the OKC Zoo as they deliver world-class care to their animals and research new ways to protect other species.”

EEHV is a virus that threatens the survival of our world’s elephant populations. With an approximately 60% fatality rate, EEHV is a fast-moving virus that primarily affects elephants age 15 and younger. In August 2021, the Zoo’s 3-year-old Asian elephant, Kairavi (Kai), tested positive for the EEHV1A virus, the most common strain in elephants in human care and wild populations. To date, scientists have identified twelve species of elephant herpes viruses, seven of which are associated with disease and death. Kai’s medical treatments progressed from antiviral medicines and fluids to advanced stem cell treatments and whole blood and plasma transfusions from her herd members at the Zoo as well as donated blood and plasma from compatible elephants at other AZA-zoos that ultimately saved her life. Kai has made a full and remarkable recovery.

The OKC Zoo's veterinary team participates in cooperative, multi-institutional research efforts to study EEHV, identify the viruses, learn about their transmission, improve treatments and contribute to the ultimate goal of finding a vaccine. Early detection of EEHV1A virus and the current antiviral medical treatments are the best-known ways to help elephants overcome this naturally occurring virus. Because of these collaborative efforts there is hope for future generations of elephants.

The Zoo is proud to be home to a multi-generational herd of eight Asian elephants including Asha, 27; Chandra, 25; Bamboo, 54; Rex, 53; Kandula, 20; Achara, 7; Kai, 3 and newest addition, Rama, born on January 20, 2022.

The OKC Zoo and OBI are also teaming up to help boost blood supplies this spring, offering those who donate blood this month a free OBI t-shirt and their choice of one free general admission ticket to the Zoo. Tickets may be used throughout the remainder of the year. There is an increased need for blood donations this spring as many people are busy traveling and enjoying the warmer weather. Unfortunately, these factors have a negative impact on the blood supply. OBI needs 1,200 donors a day to maintain an adequate blood supply. The Zoo will be hosting a blood drive on Saturday, March 12, at its Education Center from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Learn more or make an appointment at obi.org.