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The species barrier

Recently two polar bears at a Berlin zoo started foaming at the mouth and having seizures, one of them , Jerka died a week later, the other Lars, survived after several weeks of intensive treatment.

Post-mortem studies on the brain of the dead bear revealed encephalitis, swelling of the brain, caused by a virus found in zebras and it was concluded through further tests that the zebra virus was responsible for the polar bears death. Another virus had crossed the species barrier.

The zebra house at the zoo is 68ft from the polar bear enclosure and none of the keepers care for both groups of animals. None of the feeding apparatus is shared and the zoo has ruled out any other possible cross contamination. They have no idea how the virus got into the polar bears, particularly as none of the zebras at the zoo were suffering from the condition.

Zoos bring together animals from all over the world, animals that would never normally be in close proximity to each other, often they would not even be on the same continent as each other. It is extremely unlikely, in fact nigh on impossible that this would have happened in the wild.

I am not anti-zoo. They play an important role in animal conservation with breeding programmes that hopefully ensure that endangered animals survive in sufficient numbers to carry the species forward. What concerns me is that they have no idea on how Jerka contracted the disease, how it was transmitted to her, until the death of that polar bear they had no idea that the virus could affect polar bears.

With seals in New England recently being found to be a vector for the avian flu virus H3N8, and with so many diseases, such as Ebola, West Nile Virus, novel H1N1 swine flu, Hantavirus and many more zoonotic diseases crossing the species barrier from animal to man could it be that zoos and sanctuaries become the breeding ground for these viruses to jump from one species of animal to another, allowing them to mutate and adapt to their new host before they finally are able to jump the final barrier and cross into humans?

Prof Klaus Osterreider from the Free University Berlin said in an interview with Biology (journal)

“These viruses do not seem to respect boundaries, and in fact we do not know that they have any”

A sobering thought indeed.

Take care

12 comments to The species barrier

  • Loodles

    Yikes! 🙁 Thank you for the info Lizzie.

  • iaaems

    Given that many many homes in the UK are akin to zoos in that there are dogs/cats/birds being looked after – the question that I would pose here is what are the chances of cross infection to the human population from our pets? Also what sort of infections would we be talking about?

  • Morning Iaaems

    There are many and already cases occur each year.

    Both dogs and cats can pick up ticks and any tick borne disease prevalent in this country could therefore be passed on.

    Leptospirosis can also be passed from pets to humans.

    Psittacosis from parrots but other diseases can come from ducks and hens if they are free and in contact with wild birds..avian flu H5N1 being the most worrying.

    Toxoplasmosis from cats

    Equine encephalitis

    Salmonella from hens/eggs

    Pasteurellosis from rabbits


    West Nile virus (horses and birds)

    The list is a long one and those are just a few examples. Well. It is Sunday morning lol

    Take care

  • iaaems

    Lizzie Good Morning to you too

    Many thanks for the above, both comprehensive and informative.
    The hens and rabbits are very topical in the survival scenario – so a bit of research is indicated.

    Enjoy your Sunday.

  • Iaaems

    I think so. All animals carry diseases and often preparation and proper cooking can solve the problem but sadly not all the time. There is so much we need to know, and not only for a collapse scenario, I think eventually even if there is not a recognisable ‘smack’ when we hit rock bottom we will little belittle by returning to a grow your own, raise your own society, due to the costs of food if nothing else.

    If I can dig up anything on the pet side of zoonotic disease I will forward it to you.

    See ya


  • Axon

    Many diseases and parasites that cross species boundaries do so because of human intervention and poor management. Feeding minced up infected sheep to cattle as ‘hi protein’ meal resulted in BSE. Cattle are obligate herbivores -not designed to digest animal tissue. Well meaning owners feed fish remnants to horses to help their joints, or blood meal and bone to encourage ‘condition’ -horses are also obligate herbivores and dont eat animal tissue. Keeping monoculture stocks of hens or turkeys where they cannot forage, escape diseased neighbours or self medicate means the animals cannot prevent infection as they would in natural surroundings. I would expect a bit of a cover up with the bears in Lizzies article -they were probably being fed frozen dead zebra.

  • Paul

    Yet here I am eating rabbit pie.
    And I’ve been promised a couple of pigeon later in the week
    and sometime this week we’ll be down the docks buying fish.

    Not good, not good at all.
    Ho Hum.

  • Axon

    It would not surprise me at all if you are right re the polar bears. I also agree that forcing animals to eat ‘against nature’ has to take some of the blame for diseases jumping from animals to humans. Having said that the natural mutation of viruses had always happened, but man now mixes more with animals in their own environment and animals are moved sometimes thousands of miles which again is not a natural situation. I think all of these things makes a difference regarding viruses being able to make the jump.

    Take care

  • Paul

    Enjoy it mate. I won’t change my eating habits unless something specific and dangerous is reported. The thing is properly cooked food is usually. O problem. Badly cooked food has always caused problems and will continue to do so.

    Take care

    • Paul

      I always enjoy fresh food.
      Kill, dress, and eat within hours.
      Better some ‘free range’ dinner than something from a plastic tray you’ve got no idea how it was reared, what drugs it got fed, and how long it sat in the chiller.

  • bigpaul

    what TPTB need to do is to stop “bush” meat coming into the country…i think that could well be the cause of the problem.

  • Big Paul

    Bush meat has had its problems in the past and is likely to be involved in the spread of some diseases in areas where it is eaten regularly.

    It’s only my opinion but I don’t think that’s an issue in this case, or in the case of a swine/bird flu being found in seals a while back.

    Take care

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