OKLAHOMA CITY (CBS Houston/AP) — The unexpected death of a young elephant at the Oklahoma City Zoo is fueling the debate on breeding.

The zoo said in a statement that 4-year-old Asian elephant Malee died early Thursday. The zoo says zookeepers noticed that Malee was moving slower than normal on Wednesday, but the elephant was eating and acting normal otherwise.

Zookeepers noticed discoloration in the elephant’s mouth at about 4:30 p.m. Wednesday and began treating Malee for elephant endotheliotropic herpes virus (EEHV), though that has not been confirmed as the animal’s cause of death.

Activists spoke out in 2007 after a 6-year-old elephant named Hansa died at a Seattle zoo in 2007 from a similar herpes infection. They opposed the transfer of two adult female elephants, Chai and Bamboo, to Oklahoma as they feared the virus might be passed on to Malee and her baby sister.

Zoo officials dismissed the fear, saying that most elephants carry one of more types of the herpes virus, as reported by The Seattle Times.

Oklahoma City Zoo’s veterinarian says the virus has been detected in both Malee’s mother, Asha, and her aunt, Chandra. EEHV is known to quickly kill the animals due to severe internal hemorrhaging.

The incident of Malee’s death is adding fuel to the debate over the captive breeding of elephants. Previous research has indicated that infant mortality is 40 percent among zoo elephants, almost three time the rate of wild-born populations. The investigation suggests that an average of two elephants die for every elephant born in a zoo.

“All breeding must stop at zoos which have had elephants who have had, or been exposed to, EEHV,” Alyne Fortgang, co-founder of the Seattle-based Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants, told The Times. “Anything less is unethical.”

The zoo says Malee’s condition quickly deteriorated and she died at about 4 a.m. Thursday. A necropsy will be performed to determine the cause of death.

Malee was the first elephant born at the Oklahoma City Zoo.

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