Columbus Zoo Announces Death of Beloved Elephant Beco Following 'Life-Threatening Virus'

The Ohio zoo revealed its 13-year-old Asian elephant, Beco, died Saturday from Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesvirus

Columbus Zoo's Beco the elephant dies after life-threatening virus diagnosis
Photo: Columbus Zoo and Aquarium/Facebook

The Columbus Zoo is mourning the loss of one of their beloved elephants, Beco.

On Saturday, the Ohio facility announced the death of the 13-year-old Asian elephant. Beco died after testing positive for the Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesvirus (EEHV), a life-threatening virus that affects both wild and captive elephants.

"Despite the heroic efforts of his devoted Animal Care and Animal Health teams and the expertise of other zoo professionals and scientists across the country, Beco was overcome by the virus. He was surrounded by his care team," the zoo wrote on Facebook alongside a photo of Beco. "Thank you for your support during this difficult time."

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Beco — whose name is a combination of his parents' names — was born at the Columbus Zoo on March 27, 2009, to mother Phoebe and father Coco and weighed 303 pounds at birth.

On June 16, the zoo said Beco's care team noticed he was "uncharacteristically lethargic" and quickly conducted blood tests with the National Elephant Herpesvirus Laboratory at the Smithsonian's National Zoo. Beco's lab report confirmed the elephant tested positive for EEHV.

According to the zoo, Beco's treatment included antiviral medications and fluids as well as regular infusions of plasma, whole blood, and stem cells. He died around 11 a.m. on June 18.

"The loss of any animal is hard, but losing a young elephant is especially devastating," Tom Schmid, the Columbus Zoo's president and CEO, said in a release. "We are extremely grateful for the support we have received from our colleagues at other zoos and the condolences from our community, who mourns with us. Even during these sad times, Columbus Zoo staff remains committed to the future of wildlife, and we take some comfort knowing that valuable scientific data from Beco's illness will be applied to helping to save the lives of other elephants."

"I am proud of the expertise, compassion, and devotion of our care teams, and the dedication they showed throughout this fight was nothing short of inspirational. And I am also thankful for our colleagues around the country who provided plasma, blood, expertise, and support," he added. "They are true partners and friends of the Columbus Zoo."

The zoo said Beco is the second elephant from the facility to die from EEHV, also referring to Ganesh, a 7-year-old Indian elephant that died in 2005. Researchers said elephants can carry different herpesviruses throughout their lives, but they typically remain dormant without causing illness.

The Columbus Zoo said their staff is involved in a national EEHV advisory group, which works to prevent and treat the virus. The facility also announced plans to open an EEHV lab on the grounds this summer.

"This is a devastating and unpredictable virus, and we are heartbroken by this tremendous loss," Dr. Jan Ramer, the zoo's SVP of Animal Care and Conservation, said in a statement. "There is some comfort in knowing that Beco's legacy will live on in what we learn from this experience, which will ultimately help save other elephants' lives. We are grateful for the support of our zoo colleagues across the country and the kindness of our community. We are mourning Beco's loss together and finding strength in leaning on one another."

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