February 15, 2024

Zoo Mourns Beloved Elephant Calf

Popular ICC Ambassador Tsuni Inspired Wonder


The Pittsburgh Zoo & Aquarium is heartbroken to announce the death of its beloved elephant calf Tsuni today after a sudden, brief battle with elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV). The calf was 2 years old and resided with her herd at the International Conservation Center (ICC) in Somerset.

EEHV is a prevalent, challenging disease that has plagued elephants, both in human care and in the wild. Younger elephants are at the highest risk, from birth to age 8, with an 85 percent mortality rate. Tsuni’s EEHV was detected through routine blood testing on February 8, even though she presented no visible clinical signs. The effects of the virus progressed very quickly and, despite immediate treatment and support, she did not survive.

The zoological community united in a valiant effort to save Tsuni. She received around-the-clock care from the Pittsburgh Zoo & Aquarium animal health and care teams, ICC staff, and local and regional zoos. Experts shared their experience with the disease, assisted with plasma transfusions, fluid therapies, and antiviral medications, and zoos across the country sent fresh and frozen plasma
donations from their elephants. All of these treatments were administered in an effort to overcome the fatal, hemorrhagic disease.

“Tsuni held a special place in the hearts of staff and visitors alike,” said Dr. Jeremy Goodman, Zoo President and CEO. “Her loss is devastating to our entire zoo family. Her ability to fight through her early life medical challenges had been such an inspiration to everyone that worked with her. She will be terribly missed by everyone here as well as elephant lovers all over the world.”

The other adult elephants in the ICC herd have sufficiently built up EEHV antibodies as they have aged, so they are at low risk to this disease.

“Calves are born with some maternal antibodies which decrease over the first couple years of life,” said Daryl Hoffman, Vice President of Living Collections. “Calves exposed to EEHV at a young age can build their own antibodies as they fight the disease. Tsuni’s health was compromised at birth, which may have had an impact regarding her antibodies.”

Born on July 18, 2021 at the ICC, Tsuni was the calf of 31-year-old female Sukiri and 47-year-old male Jackson. In her first months, Tsuni overcame several medical conditions, including insufficient weight gain, thanks to constant care from the ICC’s dedicated elephant care staff. Her name was short for Tsunami, which perfectly captured her boisterous personality. She loved to play in the water and enjoyed grazing in the large pasture at the ICC with her mother and aunts Bette and Seeni.

“Tsuni could bring a smile to anyone’s face,” said Ayeshah Al-Humaidhi, Director of the International Conservation Center. “She was spunky, curious, and always up to something. Extremely bright, she was a willing participant in her care, which spoke to the amazing bond she had with her keepers.”

“Tsuni was a very special elephant who was surrounded by love and devoted care from her keepers and her elephant herd,” said Jill Sampson, Curator of Large Mammals. “She brought everyone immense joy and taught us many lessons. We are devastated by this loss and will continue to support efforts to combat this terrible disease. Please keep Tsuni’s keepers in your thoughts.”

The staff deeply appreciates the support of the Zoo community. Pittsburgh Zoo and ICC guests are welcome to share their memories of Tsuni on our social media pages.