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LA Zoo euthanizes herd of Nubian ibex due to highly contagious virus

The Los Angeles Zoo has euthanized its herd of Nubian ibex after determining the goats were infected with a highly contagious and incurable strain of herpes.

The zoo discovered the virus after six African antelope fell ill and died in October of malignant catarrhal fever. The zoo’s Nubian ibex, typically found in the mountains of the Middle East, were identified as the source of the disease, which develops from a herpes virus usually carried asymptomatically.

The entire herd, made up of seven goats, was euthanized last month in what the zoo called a “difficult yet responsible decision” to protect other animals at the facility.

“The Nubian ibex could not be sent to any other facility housing hoofed animals, as those animals could contract the disease and die,” the zoo said in a statement. “It would have been irresponsible of the zoo to send the Nubian ibex to another facility knowing they could cause harm.”

The virulent disease can sicken and kill many other even-toed hoofed animals but cannot be passed to humans. Symptoms may include depression, loss of appetite, a rough hair coat and nasal discharge, said April Spurlock, a zoo spokeswoman.

“The entire process from symptoms to death is often very rapid,” she said in an email, adding that the disease was no longer in the environment on zoo grounds.

The disease, usually found in underdeveloped nations, is rarely seen in the U.S., said Jennifer Langan, a clinical professor of zoological medicine at the University of Illinois.

When it does strike zoos or farms, euthanizing host animals is really the only option, she said.

For Prashant Khetan, chief executive of the animal advocacy nonprofit Born Free USA, the decision to euthanize the herd underscores why animals don’t belong in zoos.

“They belong in their natural habitat, in the wild,” he said. “I think we’re taking them out of, sort of, nature’s course and putting them into situations where they’re being used for entertainment.”

The International Union for Conservation of Nature has designated Nubian ibex a “vulnerable” species, with an estimated less than 2,500 left in the wild.

This wasn’t the first time the Los Angeles Zoo had euthanized animals that fell ill. Last month, staff euthanized a 48-year-old Indian rhinoceros who had survived skin cancer.

The rhinoceros, named Randa, began showing signs of declining health, including difficulty moving, loss of appetite and kidney failure. Zoo officials said she was the oldest Indian rhinoceros on record within zoos worldwide.

In 2012, the sole hippopotamus at the zoo was euthanized after falling ill for a month and not responding to treatment.

Zookeepers noticed the 28-year-old hippopotamus, Jabba, had a decreased appetite, abnormal bloating and was not responding to medication. The hippo was under close veterinary care, but his condition rapidly worsened.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Twitter: @AleneTchek

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