Lethal avian flu hits endangered penguin colony on Cape…


The general public has been suggested to not method, contact or deal with seabirds round Simon’s City to stop the unfold of the extremely infectious H5N1 avian flu virus amongst African penguins at Boulders Seaside. Greater than 10 penguins there have died in a colony that’s already declining from different causes.

“Avian influenza is a extremely contagious viral illness, virtually at all times deadly,” stated Dr David Roberts, medical veterinarian for avian coastal conservation basis Sanccob, which has been assessing the colony. 

“African penguins are endangered and, from a conservation perspective, it’s very scary.” 

There are about 3,000 penguins within the Boulders Seaside colony – 1,000 breeding pairs and the remaining are kids.

Flocking will increase the transmission of avian flu. (Picture: Kelvin Trautman / SANCOB)

Sick penguins look sick. They hunch up, appear depressed, their eyes will be crusty, they’ll stagger, twitch, fall over and have seizures. Roberts has been coaching SANParks rangers to identify the indicators.

Bird flu spreads between each wild and domesticated birds. There’s no remedy and no preventive remedy. Birds that fall in poor health need to be eliminated and euthanised.

Western Cape Minister of Environmental Affairs, Anton Bredell, stated that whereas avian flu held virtually no danger to people, if transmitted from wild seabirds to poultry flocks, it may pose an excellent danger to the agricultural sector.

Low danger to people

Though human-to-human transmission is rare, it has been handed from birds to people in shut contact with poultry or different birds. The World Well being Group, which has been battling zoonic (animal-to-human) transmission of Covid-19, has warned {that a} genetic mutation of H5N1 may enhance the chance to people. 

penguins avain fluAfrican penguins. (Picture: Eduard Drost)

In 2017, Sanccob famous that avian flu was spreading southwards via Africa. In 2018 it was detected in swift terns and several other different species. Then, in 2021, as South Africa staggered underneath the pandemic, it hit rooster farms, resulting in import bans in opposition to the poultry trade, large culls and an enormous lack of earnings. 

Learn extra in Day by day Maverick: Hundreds of endangered seabirds killed by H5N1 avian influenza outbreak

That yr, it additionally appeared on Dyer Island, De Mond and the Berg River on the Cape coast, ensuing within the deaths of greater than 24,000 Cape cormorants and Cape gannets. On the peak of the outbreak, the loss of life charge was 700 a day.

Go to Day by day Maverick’s residence web page for extra information, evaluation and investigations

Cape cormorants feed in flocks, generally of 1000’s of birds. Their lengthy traces or V-shaped flocks are a characteristic of the West Coast. In addition to the flu epidemic, overfishing of their predominant meals, pilchards and anchovies, has put a pressure on the species, which is endemic to the world.

The cormorant inhabitants has dropped by 50% previously 50 years. Earlier than the epidemic, there have been an estimated 57,000 breeding pairs in South Africa.

Learn extra in Day by day Maverick: Restrictions positioned on industrial fishing near endangered African penguin colonies

Transmission points

“With just a few penguins affected at Boulders, the affect is minimal at current, nevertheless it may rise dramatically,” stated Roberts.

“It’s transmitted via shut contact, and penguins do get shut and private. Density performs an enormous function, as with Covid. The virus can survive in something moist (however not seawater).

“If a sick chook has been sitting underneath a bush and one other one goes there, transmission is feasible. We fear about all of them shut collectively. They do work together and it might trigger an outbreak.”

The reason for the H5N1 avian virus, as with Covid, is human meals manufacturing and from the identical a part of the world, China. It probably advanced in synthetic poultry manufacturing methods and unfold throughout the Far East, then Europe.

penguins flocking fluThe circulation of H5N1 has a robust hyperlink to industrial farming, says Dr David Roberts, medical veterinarian for avian coastal conservation basis Sanccob. (Picture: Pixabay)

“The circulation of H5N1 has a robust hyperlink to industrial farming,” stated Roberts. “Now it’s spilled over into wild birds. We’ve got giant numbers of birds dying, together with endangered species which might be affected in a lot greater numbers than we’ve ever had earlier than.”

“Each few years a unique variant emerges. We don’t understand how these new illnesses work or what they are going to do. They appear to be scarier and have potential long-term inhabitants occasions. And with African penguins, you’ve gotten an endangered species going through so many different threats.”

In line with Desk Mountain Nationwide Park, the Boulders colony won’t be closed to guests, however the public is requested to remain on the designated boardwalks and report any sick-looking or useless birds to park administration on 021 786 2329/021 780 9100, Sanccob on 021 557 6155 or the penguin rangers on 064 844 9075. DM/OBP



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