August 25, 2005

Bird flu kills civets in captivity in Vietnam

HANOI (Reuters) - The bird flu virus which has killed more
than 60 people in Asia and is heading West has been found in
three civets which died at a Vietnamese national park, an
official said on Friday.

Do Van Lap, a manager at the Cuc Phuong National Park, said
the endangered Owston's palm civets, born in captivity and
raised in the same cage, died in late June and tests of their
samples at a Hong Kong laboratory confirmed they had bird flu.

"How they were infected remains unknown as they were raised
together with 20 other civets, their cages close to each other,
but the remaining civets are strong," Lap told Reuters.

Suspicion initially fell on keepers whose village in Ninh
Binh province, 90 km (55 miles) south of Hanoi, had dead
chickens but tests did not find the H5N1 virus, Lap said.

"Civets are fed with pork, worms and fruit, but not
chicken," he said. Visitors have been barred from the civet
cage area since the deaths, he added.

Cuc Phuong park has been running a wild life protection
project under which peacocks, pheasants, fresh water turtles
and deer are also raised in captivity.

"All the remaining animals are safe, so we reckon the three
civets are isolated cases," Lap said.

Chinese health experts concluded that civets, considered a
delicacy in southern China, was the primary source of the SARS
epidemic in 2003 that killed hundreds of people around the

It is not the first time that bird flu has killed exotic

Last year it infected ostriches in South Africa, a clouded
leopard and 30 tigers in Thailand, where another 40 tigers
suspected of catching the virus were culled.

A virulent strain of bird flu that has killed 62 people in
Asia, most of them in Vietnam, has been confirmed in six
Russian regions and in Kazakhstan in recent weeks.

Some experts fear migratory birds could spread the virus to
the European Union as they move to warmer areas for winter
after nesting in Russia's Siberia.

But on Thursday, EU executives said the virus had only a
remote chance of striking the EU in the immediate future and
that there was no need to ban European farms from keeping their
poultry outdoors.