The Houston Zoo's Got More Herpes Than A Motley Crue Groupies' Convention, PETA Says

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals protested at the Houston Zoo Saturday, demanding that the zoo stop breeding elephants after the death of two-year-old Mac from the elephant herpesvirus.

Hair Balls caught up with PETA spokeswoman Lindsay Rajt at the protest. "PETA is appalled that yet another young elephant at the Houston Zoo has died of herpesvirus 1 and is calling on the Houston Zoo to immediately stop breeding elephants," she said. She went on to say that Houston has been called an "elephant herpes hot spot."

According to PETA, Mac is the sixth elephant to die of this disease at the Houston Zoo; no elephant conceived at the zoo in the last 25 years is still alive today. It has already been announced that Mac's mother, Shanti, is pregnant again.

Brian Hill, the zoo's director of public affairs, disagrees that stopping breeding elephants is the solution.

"We know that stopping breeding in zoos will only do one thing - severely impede the progress that is being made in studying elephant herpesvirus diseases and finding a cure," he wrote Hair Balls in an email.

Hill also noted that the disease isn't spread by breeding, that the latest research indicates it's not contagious, that the disease is present in elephants in captivity and the wild, and that the zoo cosponsored the first elephant herpesvirus conference in 2005 at the Texas Medical Center.

PETA sees things differently, of course. "The bottom line," says Rajt, "is they know baby animals attract visitors."

-- Cathy Matusow

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