Wild birds not entirely to blame for bird flu: Experts

Kathmandu, February 24:

Avian conservationists and related organisations have stated that the logic migratory birds are the main cause of avian influenza is hollow.

“The current avian flu crisis is exclusively blamed on migratory birds. These may not be the sole carrier of the disease in all cases. We believe that unrestricted movement of poultry could be a major factor in the spread of this disease in countries where monitoring is weak,” said Dr Hem Sagar Baral, ornithologist and chief executive of the Bird Conservation Nepal, (BCN).

In a press statement, Dr Baral demanded an investigation into the issue, “In face of lack of scientific evidence that avian flu spread is by migratory birds, there is a grave danger that people will take such statements negatively against wild birds. A thorough investigation into this is needed.”

“By continuing to focus only on bird migrations, other mechanisms and paths for contamination are being overlooked, and effective protection measures are being ignored. Just because wild migratory birds were found to be infected they were labelled the authors of the crime. However, as in any normal investigation, all clues should be considered and all evidence collected,” said a joint statement issued by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Royal Society for Protection of Birds (RSPB) yesterday.

“In the case of migratory birds carrying the virus, it would have been noticed much earlier. Why such a hiatus if an infected bird normally releases the virus within a couple of weeks of infection?” queried Dr Taej Mundkur, an ornithologist from Wetlands International, in the same statement.

Also, there seems little correlation between the predominantly north-south orientation of flyways and the southeast to northwest path via which the virus has spread from South East Asia to Eastern Europe, according to the statement. “Why are certain countries on migratory routes not vulnerable while others outside these corridors are being affected? In what other ways can the virus be spread.”

“There is also a need to understand which species are carriers, and which ones don’t contract the virus. Also, amongst those subject to infection, it is important to differentiate between those that do not survive, and have therefore a limited capability to spread the virus, and the asymptomatic carriers whose role in the transmission of the virus needs to be further explored,” read the statement.

“The proximity of migratory birds to poultry is the outcome of incorrect planning and faulty development, which have caused the sharing of important habitats for migratory birds — like wetlands — between wildlife and farms, with the obvious consequences that we are now experiencing,” the statement quoted Robert Hepworth, executive secretary to the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS).

Bird Conservation Nepal asked the government to follow the best veterinary advice concerning issues such as confinement of free-ranging flocks, and vaccination.