Wednesday, October 26, 2005
Bird flu: don't shoot the messenger !
Everywhere I have been in the last couple of weeks, people are asking about the impact of the culling of wild birds on biodiversity, in connection with the bird flu crisis.
Birdlife International have put out a statement that warns that not only "culls of wild birds are highly unlikely to stop the spread of the disease and are extremely difficult to implement" [but also] "culls have the potential to make the situation worse by dispersing infected individuals and stressing healthy birds, making them more prone to disease. Moreover, it would divert resources away from important disease control measures."
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has not identified the culling of wild bird as a feasible option to control the spread of the bird flu.
In a 30 October statement, BirdLife International "warn[s] that hasty responses to Avian Influenza based on incomplete or unsound data could do great damage to birds and other biodiversity, while actually raising the risk to people and to the economically important poultry industry. In particular, BirdLife International strongly opposes any suggestion that wild birds should be culled in an attempt to control the spread of the disease, on grounds of practicality and effectiveness, as well as conservation. Any such attempts could spread the virus more widely, as survivors disperse to new places, and healthy birds become stressed and more prone to infection. Similarly, attempts to drain wetlands would not only be disastrous for birds and other biodiversity, but would also be counterproductive, for the same reasons that culling is more likely to spread the Avian Influenza virus than control it. Birds will seek alternative staging places, and waterfowl forced to fly further and endure more crowded conditions along their migration route will become stressed and exhausted, and more prone to infection". (emphasis added)
On the positive side perhaps, the bird flu crisis is an opportunity for governments to put more effort into stopping illegal trade in wild birds. At long last.