New virus blamed for killing 31 snakes at Ocean Park

Scientists link illness that decimated Ocean Park's newborn anacondas to new reptile bug

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 August, 2014, 5:49am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 August, 2014, 9:42am

A new virus has been identified as the cause of an illness that killed 31 baby anacondas at Ocean Park three years ago.

A study, led by University of Hong Kong microbiologist Yuen Kwok-yung, found the virus that killed the newborn anacondas was closely related to other reptilian paramyxovirus, but it was capable of being transmitted only among snake species.

The report was published in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology last week.

The epidemic in 2011 was believed to have originated from a mother snake bought from Japan, which was found to be pregnant only after arriving at Ocean Park in Wong Chuk Hang.

After the green anaconda (Eunectes murinus) gave birth to 33 baby snakes on July 10, 2011, all of them developed skin and organ inflammation. Of the 33 born, 31 died over the next 12 months.

A spokeswoman for Ocean Park said that the surviving mother and two green anaconda juveniles were now healthy.

"Since the mother anaconda has always been kept alone, we believe that no other snakes have been infected by the new virus," she said.

She said that the mother was quarantined and had health checks before arriving Hong Kong.

"But since the virus is entirely new, we were not able to detect anything. The virus has not caused the mother snake to be sick and it has presented no symptoms at all," she said.

She added that the park would add the virus into its regular checks from now on.

A total of 139 specimens were collected from 13 dead snakes for the study.

Genetic sequencing confirmed the presence of a new kind of paramyxovirus similar to that of another virus which was originally discovered in a common lancehead snake during a disease outbreak in a snake farm in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1972, the report said.

All other snakes in the park have tested negative for the virus.