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Beloved Elephant Samson At Maryland Zoo Fights Deadly Virus

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Christie Ileto 370 x 278 Christie Ileto
Christie Ileto joined WJZ's News Team in the fall of 2012. She...
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BALTIMORE (WJZ)–The Maryland Zoo’s youngest elephant is recovering from a life threatening illness.

As Christie Ileto explains, zookeepers say 5-year-old Samson has herpes and is lucky to be alive.

Samson has long been a crowd favorite at the Maryland Zoo, but little Kalee can’t see him Thursday because zookeepers say the 3,500 pound animal is behind walls battling herpes.

“I said, we might have to see the polar bears, the elephants may be inside. ‘No, I want to see the elephants,’” said Jennifer Abner about her granddaughter.

Samson is “very weak at times, lacks energy, overall dull,” said Mike McClure, general curator with the Maryland Zoo. “It’s hit him pretty hard.”

McClure says it’s not the STD form of herpes, but left untreated in elephants can cause internal bleeding and heart failure.

Samson started showing symptoms late last month.

“We do know this is a virus that is natural in elephants,” McClure said. “Modes of transmission and how they contract it is still not something that we’ve been able to track down.”

Zookeepers say it’s rare that Samson even caught the virus because of his age and species. It’s more commonly found in Asian elephants between the ages of 1 and 4.

Studies show the virus kills 80-90 percent of elephants who get it. So right now, Samson takes anti-viral medicines three times a day, coupled with watered down Gatorade.

“He’s definitely not out of the woods. He’s recovering. He’s doing well and he’s stable, but this is a virus that doesn’t go away,” said McClure.

And that means zookeepers will continue to watch Samson around the clock in the hopes he’ll fully recover and be back with the rest of the herd.

The first recovered case of the illness came in 1995 when an elephant at the National Zoo in Washington died.

Since then it’s only be reported that just two African elephants besides Samson have gotten the illness.

Zookeepers say Samson has survived longer than other elephants with the virus but remain cautiously optimistic.

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