Houston Zoo & Visitors Mourn Mac’s Passing

The Houston Zoo says Mac, an Asian elephant who became an instant attraction after he was born two years ago, died Sunday night after contracting the elephant herpes virus. Zoo officials say they will use his death to try and find a cure to the often fatal disease. Pat Hernandez has the story.

Rick Barongi: “Our staff and our entire Zoo family are devastated with this sudden and tragic loss.”

Mac was an instant hit with Zoo staffers and visitors when he was born two years ago. But on Sunday, elephant keepers began to notice that Mac was showing symptoms of being infected with the virus and alerted the veterinary staff. Houston Zoo Director Rick Barongi says Mac’s passing was sudden and quick despite a valiant effort to save him.

“His mother Shanti and his Aunt Methai were side by side with him, and we left the elephant staff there with the elephants and, from what they tell us, it’s typical of what elephants do. They stood by the body most of the evening and then they walked away. They came back a few times. They’ll grieve just like people will. They’re incredibly intelligent animals, but they know that he’s gone now. They had their time with him also.”

Dr. Joe Flanagan is director of veterinary services at the Zoo. He says after Mac stopped eating and became lethargic, they immediately began treating him with an antiviral medication.

“He responded pretty well to that therapy. We gave him supportive therapy as well to make him feel better. He laid down and slept very comfortably and we felt like we had our plan, he was responding to therapy. Unfortunately shortly thereafter, he stood up and, he essentially yawned and then laid back down and passed. It killed us as well. It was a very, very sad moment for everyone in the barn.”

A necropsy is being conducted at the state vet lab at Texas A&M. Zoo director Barongi says the virus that killed Mac threatens all elephant calves wild and domestic after they have been weaned and when it circulates through the bloodstream.

image of Rick Barongi, Houston Zoo Director“Once we find out more of the medical facts to verify exactly the cause of death, and talk with medical experts, we will move forward. We will move forward together with other zoos and research institutions to find a cure for this disease.However, our immediate concern again, is for our staff. They spent every day the last two years of their lives with the elephant. And, as you can see, it’s tough for all of us.”

Mac is the second of Shanti’s offspring to die at the zoo. Bella was put to sleep when surgery failed to repair a fractured leg.

Pat Hernandez, KUHF…Houston Public Radio News.