Almost a year after the outbreak of bird flu among the wild birds
near Qinghai Lake (Tso Ngonpo) that killed tens of thousands of wild
birds and Qinghai came to be associated with a deadly H5N1 strain of
bird flu, new cases of flu among wild birds have been reported since
late April near Qinghai Lake and in Yushu county, a remote nomadic
region several hundred kilometers to the south of Qinghai Lake. The
outbreak in wild birds continues to fuel fears that migratory birds
as carriers of the deadly avian flu could lead to global pandemic.
China’s secrecy and the stonewalling of requests for information on
the flu outbreak continue to fuel speculation about the role of
migratory birds in the spread of flu.

Over the past year, the spread of the flu has not been correlated
with the migratory routes and seasons of wild birds. Indeed, some
global studies have found that migratory birds are not the cause of
the current wave of bird flu outbreaks stalking large parts of the
world. Rather, outbreaks have been concentrated in the factory farms
of China, South East Asia and elsewhere in the world. In India, the
epicenter of outbreak of bird flu took place in 18 poultry farms in
and around Navapur in Maharashtra. Since the Qinghai Lake outbreak
last year, outbreaks in other parts of world have occurred along
major transport routes. However increasing evidence suggests that
commercial poultry and its products, not migratory bird populations,
are the likely vectors of avian flu.

Fish farms and wild bird flu on Qinghai Lake At present, a new theory
is gaining ground that the outbreak in wild birds near Qinghai Lake
may be linked to fish farms around the lake. As early as 1998,
scientists cautioned that human health hazards like an influenza
pandemic could arise from the practice of bringing together fish
farms with farm livestock. Some researchers say that bird flu may be
spread by using chicken dung as feed in fish farms, a practice now
routine in Asia.

According to Le Hoang Sang, deputy director of the Ho Chi Minh City’s
Pasteur Institute, “Chicken excrement is one of the main carriers of
the H5N1 virus, which can survive in a cool and wet environment for a
month and slightly less if in water.” In January, a 9-year-old boy
died from bird flu in the Mekong Delta province of Tra Vinh after he
caught it while swimming in water in which the bodies of infected
poultry had been thrown. BirdLife International, a global body for
bird protection groups in more than 100 countries, is calling for an
investigation into the possibility that the fish in these ponds,
which are fed with chicken dung, may be the means by which the new
strain of avian influenza, H5N1, is being spread. It says that
outbreaks of H5N1 have occurred this year at locations in China,
Romania and Croatia where there are fish farms.

The above theory, if proven right, puts a serious question mark over
this practice, which has been promoted actively by the UN’s Food and
Agriculture Organisation (FAO). FAO have been active in the
development of commercial aquaculture, particularly in Qinghai Lake,
and is said to have helped establish an integrated livestock-fish
farm near the lake in the early 1990s. Qinghai Lake is the largest
inland lake on the Tibetan Plateau and its Bird Island attracts
thousands of seasonal bird populations including cormorants, gulls
and other species that feed upon the fingerlings and naked carp, a
species endemic to the Lake and commercially fished.

Commercial fishing was first carried out in 1958, and since the late
1980s the agricultural potential of the Qinghai Lake area was being
recognized and development encouraged, resulting in a rapidly growing
livestock industry. Due to abundance and good quality of water near
Qinghai Lake, attempts at introduction of exotic fish species are
being made. Fish farming was encouraged, both in the lake and in
surrounding reservoirs, supported by local fish feed manufacturing
facilities. Only an independent investigation into the cause of flu
among wild birds will tell whether the increased development of
fisheries in and around the Qinghai Lake has caused massive deaths in
the wild birds of Qinghai Lake.

*Namgyal has an MA in Sustainable International Development from the
Brandeis University and has been researching and writing on Tibetan
environmental issues for the past five years.
farms%3F&id=12635]Qinghai Bird flu caused by fish farms?[/url]