viper can be a problematic species in captivity. This is mainly true
for wild-caught adult animals that have suffered stress and dehydration
during storage and transport. Any new animal arriving in a collection
should be put in quarantine for at least
2 months, and kept under optimum conditions as outlined earlier. Quarantine
means also that the keeper restricts his use of tools for handling
the animal or cleaning the cage to this particular snake. A separate
room is definitively an advantage given the fact that bacterial and
viral infections can spread easily among a keeper's snake population.
check the health status of newly arrived animals, they should be placed
in a container with water (water level about 2 cm high) for some hours.
Dehydrated animals usually start to drink and may defecate after a
while. Injection of physiological saline solution (available in a
pharmacy) under the skin may also help to recover dehydration. If
a viper accepts food (live or freshly killed mice or rats) it is usually
a promising sign and further husbandry may not become difficult.
If a Wagleri raises its forebody, opens its mouth, and strongly pumps
air into the lungs (often associated with a 'click' sound), this is
a sign of lung infection. Badly affected animals contain heavy loads
of mucus in the lungs and may eventually die of suffocation.
female photographed inside the famous Snake Temple on Penang
island, Malaysia. This specimen has obviously contracted a lung
infection. The open mouth is characteristic, but note also the
raised head and the outstretched resting position (usually coiled
or in S-shape). This picture (and many more moribund specimens
inside the temple) proves that conditions inside the Snake Temple
are far from suitable for the animals. Against popular believe,
the fumes of joss sticks burning everywhere are poison for a
species that is especially prone to ailments of the lungs.
people who are more or less experienced with this snake regard the
the animal doomed once lung infection sets in, but this must not be
the case, especially if only the lung is affected. Antibiotic treatment
may help at this stage, but we firmly believe that putting the animal
solitary (stress free) under the right climatic conditions (high humidity
and fresh air) is the best strategy to save it.
the somewhat deformed snout and remnants of mucus adhering to
the mouth. The latter indicates lung infection.
Wagleris that die in captivity, succumb to lung infections. In our
collections, we have found the bacterium Pseudomonas
aeruginosa as the main culprit (which was confirmed by
various veterinarians), although it was not always entirely clear
whether or not it was the only cause of disease. It became clear,
however, that excessive mucus production in the lungs was associated
with multiplication of the bacterium and that using antibiotics removing
P. aeruginosa cured affected snakes.
P. aeruginosa is a wide-spread species being present in almost
every corner of this planet, it makes little sense in trying to sterilise
cages and the entire environment of snakes. It is much more effective
to keep snakes under optimun conditions. If the snakes are kept in
a large cage with dense vegetation, special care should be taken that
ventilation reaches every corner of the container.
is very dangerous to keep a sick animal infected with P. aeruginosa
in contact with healthy snakes. Despite its general presence in the
environment, it seems that the bacterium can mutate to forms that
are highly pathogenic for the snakes. [Two years after I wrote this, a very interesting scientifc investigation has been published that strongly support my view: Pseudomonas bacteria can sense the immune status of its host and change its virulence accordingly. For all hard core science fans, here is the paper] Once an infected animal becomes
a carrier for such a pathogenic population, healthy Wagleris in the
same room may become infected and ill very fast. When we transferred
pathogen-free healthy Wagleris into a room which contained sick animals,
the newly introduced animals (with no previous history of disease)
became ill and some of them died. Aggressive P. aeruginosa
infections usually spread through the whole body, and may produce
visible eruptions under the scales and skin of a snake. They even
invade the eyes and may cause blindness.
infections like paramyxovirus that wreck
havoc among many snake species are probably not very pathogenic for
T. wagleri, as apparently healthy Wagleris were diagnosed
as latent carriers of this virus. However, we have experienced sudden
losses of seemingly healthy individuals which is quite indicative
of viral infection.
best way to maintain healthy populations
of Wagler's vipers in captivity is to start with newborn or young
animals and not bring them in contact with any other Wagleri, be it
wild-caught or through exchange with other keepers.