"It's only through the close relationship with our elephants that our staff was able to determine Mike was not feeling well and we started aggressive treatment for EEHV even before it was confirmed," Stephen Payne, vice president for corporate communications at Feld Entertainment, said in an email to The Dodo. "Alas, the virus can be devastating to young elephants which is why we have been supporting research efforts, particularly with the Smithsonian, to find ways to treat and prevent the disease."
Herpes is fairly common among captive elephants and can be highly fatal, though Ringling Bros. said Mike is the first elephant to die of the virus at the Center for Elephant Conservation. Yet welfare groups are pointing out that Mike is the latest in a long string of elephant deaths at the controversial Florida facility.
While animal lovers rejoiced at last year's announcement that Ringling Bros. would be retiring its performing elephants by 2018 - a date that was later moved up to this spring - the good news was tempered by the fact that the elephants would be retired to the Center, which, despite its name, has historically served as a training camp rather than a sanctuary.
The Center has been accused of keeping elephants at the facility in chains for much of their lives, and for controlling them with with electric prods and bullhooks, painful pointed instruments that have been banned in several U.S. cities.
Elephant calves tied up at Ringling Bros.'s Center for Elephant ConservationSam Haddock/PETA