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The death of two baby elephants at Chester Zoo has prompted questions from animal welfare campaigners.

Nandita Hi Way, three, and Aayu Hi Way, 18-months-old, were struck by a virus, leaving staff reportedly fighting to save the animals.

Despite the efforts, it was announced today, that both animals had died.

‘Devastating’

“Aayu and his half-sister Nandita were wonderful, confident and energetic calves, who loved nothing more than playing with the rest of the family herd – whether in the sand or the pool,” said the statement by Chester Zoo’s Director of Animals Mike Jordan.

“They will be missed by their young siblings in the herd who will no doubt mourn for a short time.

“To lose them both is also devastating to all of us here who have cared for them day in, day out. We fought for them until the very last moments, but were unable to save them. It is just heartbreaking.”

‘They belong in the wild’

As a response to the deaths, animal advocacy group the Born Free Foundation has released a statement, questioning whether the animals should have been in captivity.

“Elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV) is a devastating virus, which seems to have a relatively greater impact on elephants in captivity than those in the wild,” said Born Free.

“We can only assume that some aspect of the restrictions and stresses of life in captivity puts young elephants at serious risk from the disease. In zoos in some regions of the world, EEHV is the single greatest cause of death in young Asian elephants.”

‘Chester Zoo has a history’

The statement added that Chester Zoo has had ‘a long tragic history of deaths from this disease: five elephants succumbed to the disease in the six years up to 2015’.

“While our thoughts are with the keepers and the remaining elephants at Chester Zoo, we must also ask some serious questions: given that it is widely acknowledged that elephant populations in zoos are not sustainable, and when life in a zoo is so different to life in the wild in a family-based herd, why are zoos continuing to keep and breed elephants only for them to face death at a young age from EEHV?” asked the Foundation.

“Born Free is convinced that life in zoos greatly compromises elephant welfare and does little or nothing to assist in the protection of elephant populations where they belong – in the wild.”

Maria Chiorando

Maria is the editor of Plant Based News. As a former magazine editor, newspaper reporter, and features writer, her work has been published by The Guardian, The Huffington Post, and various regional newspapers, as well as Vegan Life magazine and Vegan Trade Journal. She has interviewed a huge range of people, from Prime Ministers to authors, activists, pop stars and actors, and enjoys the varied range of topics writing for PBN allows her to tackle.