Don’t blame wild birds for bird flu epidemic, says Nature Seychelles

Nature Seychelles and other conservation non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Africa and around the world are concerned about the threat that the H5N1 avian flu virus poses to both wildlife and humans. As the only non-governmental member of the Seychelles national Bird Flu Committee, Nature Seychelles has been working with others to ensure that the Indian Ocean archipelago is prepared to deal with any possible H5N1 outbreak as Africa comes to terms with its first fatality from the disease.

Human cases of the disease have recently been confirmed in Egypt and Nigeria, where the H5N1 bird flu strain claimed its first victim on the continent.
To counter a possible outbreak in Seychelles an Avian Flu Preparedness plan under the aegis of the Ministry of Health and the Bird Flu Committee has been produced with the input of several organisations including Nature Seychelles.
The committee has developed detailed plans of how to deal with all contingencies to do with the flu and the Ministry of Health has put in place several measures including stockpiling of anti-flu medicine.
“The authorities need critical assistance for the full implementation of the preparedness plan including purchase of equipment and materials and we are calling on donors to assist.” said Nature Seychelles CEO, Nirmal Shah
Seychelles is home is home to a large number of rare sea and landbirds and dependent on tourist derived income and a number of migratory bird species occasionally seen in Seychelles such as the Little Egret, Ruddy Shelduck and Black-headed Gull, have reportedly died of the disease in other countries.
However, the country’s distance from the African mainland (over 1,000km) is being cited as a safe-guard against the introduction of the disease by migratory birds.
“The virulence of H5N1 causes death in birds, thus leaving few opportunities for long distance dispersal. The Sooty Tern is the only species migrating in large numbers to Seychelles, but it is a very unlikely candidate for H5N1dispersal. Also, the contact between wild birds, poultry and humans has to be extremely close and, in Seychelles, wild birds rarely come into close contact with poultry or humans on a regular basis,” said Nirmal Shah.
Many countries are currently toughening anti bird-smuggling measures in a bid to stop the spread of the disease. In Seychelles existing legislation already prohibits live bird imports and the limited points of entry into the country makes smuggling of species expensive and exceptionally difficult.
“Hygiene in Seychelles and biosecurity on our poultry farms are better than in many neighboring countries, further increasing our resilience,” said Shah.
Nature Seychelles’ advice to the national authorities and stance on migratory birds follows the call by BirdLife International on all national governments to present a balanced picture and not allow the automatic implication of wild birds as the likeliest vector every time an outbreak occurs.
As the BirdLife partner in Seychelles, Nature Seychelles supports the BirdLife statement that, “The spread of H5N1, and outbreaks of other high-pathogenicity forms in the past, have made it clear both how much movement there is of poultry and poultry products around the world, and how easily the virus can be carried in this way.”
BirdLife has also highlighted the fact that, if migratory birds were the source of outbreaks, these would occur first in free-range farms. This has not been the case, with the virus often first being detected in closed poultry farms.

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