Chester Zoo conservation scholar, Johnathan Haycock, is currently studying the immune system for the Asian elephant in order to help find a way to control the devastating effects of EEHV. Below he tells us more:
“I graduated as a veterinary surgeon from the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), London in 2011 having also studied for a degree in Veterinary Biosciences. I completed several overseas zoological placements both during and after graduation, including Singapore Zoo and Kuala Lumpur Zoo and started work at a practice in Kent dealing with both zoo and wildlife species. I returned to the RVC in 2013 to further my education in wildlife conservation and complete an MSc degree in Wild Animal Health.
“My passion for conservation of wildlife species has driven my undergraduate and masters’ theses to study elephant endotheliotropic herpesviruses (EEHVs), a group of deadly viruses affecting juvenile Asian elephants.
Almost every mammal species carries at least one herpes virus, safely hidden in their body without any apparent signs of disease except in certain circumstances, such as stress or a weakened immune system. However, EEHVs are unique in that they can cause sudden death in healthy young elephants.
“Although research supported by UK zoos has helped to improve our understanding of the viruses in recent years, we still know very little about why the viruses cause such a fatal disease and how we can help elephants to fight it.
“I continued my work in elephant conservation by volunteering at the main EEHV research centre in the UK, the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) in Weybridge, Surrey. In July 2016, I started my PhD at the APHA, funded through the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria Elephant Taxon Advisory Group (Chester Zoo, Zoological Society of London and Woburn Safari Park).
“My PhD project will focus on creating a better understanding of the Asian elephant immune system in order to help the elephants control the disease more effectively. I am specifically investigating the potential anti-viral role of interferons (a molecule produced by white blood cells to fight viral infections) and immunoglobulins (antibodies). By drawing on human medical knowledge and a new grasp of the elephant immune system, I hope to uncover ways to help prevent further fatal cases.”
We’re part of the global conservation community committed to the conservation of Asian elephants, so we will continue to carry out intensive research and work to discover more about this virus and how to treat it. Together we can find a solution!