In a world first, a pilot study has begun at Chester Zoo of a new vaccine to fight a virus threatening the survival of the Asian elephant.
Deaths from Elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus, known as EEHV, are said to be on the rise in the wild. Only around 40,000 Asian elephants remain.
Early tests showed the jab - developed as a result of a long term collaboration led by scientists at the University of Surrey and Chester Zoo - stimulates an immune response after vaccination.
Elephant care experts at Chester are now leading the first vaccine pilot study, supported by a host of other major conservation zoos in the UK and Ireland.
Vets and elephant care teams at Chester Zoo - home to the first elephant to participate in the pilot study, a healthy 20-year old bull - have reported no adverse effects or changes in behaviour.
Mike Jordan, Director of Animals and Plants at Chester Zoo, said: “Finding a safe and effective vaccine that works for Asian elephants globally is the best way to tackle this devastating disease.“This vaccine pilot study is a major milestone for conservation and, while not wanting to get too carried away at this early stage, there does appear to be some light at the end of the tunnel. "
"The only long-term solution to beating EEHV is to find a vaccine. Without zoos caring for the species it would be almost impossible to achieve that but, thankfully, we’re now making remarkable progress," he added.
"The global conservation community is today a step closer to finding a viable vaccine to save Asian elephants from this deadly disease.”