A male Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) died at the Berlin zoological gardens in August 1998 of systemic infection with the novel endotheliotropic elephant herpesvirus (ElHV-1). This virus causes a fatal haemorrhagic disease in Asian elephants, the so-called endothelial inclusion body disease, as reported from North American zoological gardens. In the present work, ElHV-1 was visualized ultrastructurally in affected organ material. Furthermore, a gene block comprising the complete glycoprotein B (gB) and DNA polymerase (DPOL) genes as well as two partial genes was amplified by PCR-based genome walking and sequenced. The gene content and arrangement were similar to those of members of the Betaherpesvirinae. However, phylogenetic analysis with gB and DPOL consistently revealed a very distant relationship to the betaherpesviruses. Therefore, ElHV-1 may be a member of a new genus or even a new herpesvirus subfamily. The sequence information generated was used to set up a nested-PCR assay for diagnosis of suspected cases of endothelial inclusion body disease. Furthermore, it will aid in the development of antibody-based detection methods and of vaccination strategies against this fatal herpesvirus infection in the endangered Asian elephant.