A mutant strain of zebra herpes killed a polar bear two years ago at the Wuppertal Zoo in Germany,according to a study published in the scientific journal Current Biology.
Researchers at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin said they’re still not certain how the bear got zebra herpes, but speculated that it may have been carried by a mouse or rat from a zebra enclosure hundreds of feet away.
They were alarmed to find evidence of a mutated version of equine herpes had managed to transfer itself into polar bears, saying that they don’t know how many species the virus might be able to infect. They warned that zoos can “unintentionally provide pathogens with a high diversity of species from different continents and habitats” to adapt to.
“The virus may cause fatal encephalitis and infects at least five mammalian orders, apparently without requiring direct contact with infected animals,” they concluded.