'Heartbreaking': Taronga Zoo mourns loss of young Asian elephant Tukta
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'Heartbreaking': Taronga Zoo mourns loss of young Asian elephant Tukta

Taronga Zoo is in mourning after the sudden illness and death of eight-year-old female Asian elephant Tukta on Monday afternoon.

The zoo's elephant keepers noticed Tukta was "lethargic and off her food" on Monday morning, and notified the Taronga veterinary team.

Young Asian elephant female Tukta died of a sudden onset illness on Monday afternoon.

Young Asian elephant female Tukta died of a sudden onset illness on Monday afternoon. Credit:Taronga Zoo

Suspecting an acute case of elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus, vets commenced emergency treatment – but despite the swift action, she died later that day.

In a statement, the zoo said the virus is present in almost all Asian elephants, both in the wild and in zoos, "however it only causes illnesses in some young elephants and when it does is almost always fatal."

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Taronga director and chief executive Cameron Kerr said losing Tukta was like losing family, and that staff and volunteers were devastated.

"Our hearts are broken by Tukta’s sudden and unexpected loss. She was a much-loved member of Taronga’s elephant herd who loved caring for her little brother Jai Dee," Mr Kerr said.

Tukta was the third calf to be born at Taronga Zoo under the Australasian regional breeding program for conserving the endangered species, which to date has contributed six Asian elephant calves.

Tukta was the third calf born into Taronga's program eight years ago.

Tukta was the third calf born into Taronga's program eight years ago.

Senior veterinarian Larry Vogelnest said treatment was commenced as soon as he examined the young elephant, but the virus "progresses rapidly" and she could not be saved.

"The virus that Tukta succumbed to is naturally carried by Asian elephants, and occasionally causes disease in elephants, most commonly between one and eight years of age.

"There is no vaccine available for this virus, and at present drug treatment is effective only in one-third of cases," Dr Vogelnest said.

Jenny Noyes is a journalist at the Sydney Morning Herald. She was previously a writer and editor at Daily Life.