Birds inc magpie robin in Hong Kong w H5N1

Late to post this [re magpie robin, the first bird to test positive for H5N1 in HK during early 2006], after some hassles with website over past few days, but, from HK government, 19 January 2006:

An Oriental Magpie Robin found dead in Kam Shan Tsuen, Tai Po was confirmed to be H5N1 positive following a series of laboratory tests, a spokesman for the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) said today (January 19).

The spokesman stressed that the department would maintain frequent inspections on poultry farms to ensure that proper precautions against avian influenza had been implemented.

The department had inspected the eight chicken farms within five kilometres of where the Oriental Magpie Robin was found.

"We will continue to monitor the poultry farms closely. There is no abnormal mortality and the chickens show no symptoms of avian influenza," he said.

The bird was collected by AFCD staff on January 10 upon a public referral.

People are reminded to observe good personal hygiene. They should avoid personal contact with wild birds and live poultry and clean their hands thoroughly after coming into contact with them.

Magpie robin is a common resident here, found even in city parks, also in and around villages; occur outside my apartment. Not a species that hob-nobs with wildfowl - tho will feed on open areas where ducks graze. (Hard to see wild ducks in HK away from Deep Bay wetland in northwest.) Will feed in and around farms.

Also, common in captivity, with birds imported (eg from Singapore - better at fighting [!]).

Odd that no evidence of HK otherwise in HK. [tho see below] So, vaccinated poultry??? (as reportedly can be infected without clinical signs)

HK authorities now seeing if they can find more H5N1, inc in poultry farms near where the robin was found.

Post edited by: martin, at: 2006/02/04 09:31

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A second dead magpie robin has tested positive, in village near border with Shenzhen, mainland China.
Given their behaviour, and fact these villages some km apart, unlikely they were in contact in wild; odd that no other species yet found in Hong Kong with H5N1 this winter.

So, my guess still that they were captive birds; maybe a bird dealer or two has problems (and - yes, another guess - has tossed birds out; not as tho a dealer wants hassle from authorities).
[Emailed Agric, Fisheries and Cons Dept here re this - have they examined the birds to see if signs of captive origin; no reply as yet.]

Results from 1st bird show the H5N1 related to prevalent strains in mainland China poultry.

Just seen on Reuters (! - shows that haven't watched or listened to local news today):

HONG KONG (Reuters) - The Hong Kong government said on Wednesday that two dead birds -- a wild crested myna and a domestic chicken smuggled in from mainland China -- had tested positive for the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus. ... The chicken and myna double the number of dead birds Hong Kong government tests in the past two weeks have shown to have H5N1, a strain of bird flu that has killed 85 people worldwide since late 2003. As a precaution, the government will cull all poultry within five kilometres (3.1 miles) of the smallholding where the chicken died, and also close the city's walk-in aviaries and a large nature reserve, said Thomas Sit, Acting Assistant Director of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation. It was unclear where the chicken caught the deadly disease, said Thomas Tsang, Consultant of the Centre for Health Protection of the Department of Health. "We do not know whether the chicken was infected in the mainland or whether it was infected in Hong Kong," he told a news conference. "We can't really draw any conclusions yet." The bird was smuggled into Hong Kong on January 26 without symptoms and became ill on January 31. The typical incubation period for the disease in birds is two to 10 days, he said. The chicken was brought illegally into Hong Kong ahead of the Lunar New Year period. Despite bird flu worries, the government increased the number of chickens shipped into Hong Kong from mainland China around the January 29 Lunar New Year. It fell ill and died about a half a kilometre (0.3 miles) from the border with China in an area where the government said on Sunday that an Oriental Magpie Robin also died of H5N1. The dead crested myna was found in an urban playground, Tsang said.

Hong Kong says found more H5N1 flu in dead birds[/url] Just found govt press release; the mynah was found in Wong Tai Sin, north Kowloon (not quite in New Territories; over 10km south of where 1st infected magpie robin found, which in turn another 10km south of place on border where 2nd magpie robin and now the smuggled chicken found). http://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/200602/01/P200602010235.htm Crested mynah not much of a cage bird here; common resident. So, less likely to me that seeing infections in captive [wild] birds. Feeding at places with chickens? - can but guess. Govt to close aviaries and Mai Po Marshes Nature Reserve as precaution. Later thought re Wong Tai Sin: there's big temple there; major place during Chinese New Year celebrations. Just wondering if the mynah found at Wong Tai Sin might have been part of batch released at the temple - for good fortune - over Chinese New Year; googled, and found (example of this) re last governor Chris Patten visiting the temple some years ago: " He helped release 108 birds from nine cages as part of a ''setting free ceremony'' to seek blessing for the well-being of the Hong Kong people."

Chicken smuggling by no means uncommon, inc at Shataukok:

At 5.10 am this morning (May 30), a public light bus running between Sha Tau Kok and Sheung Shui was also intercepted at the above Check Post. Customs officers arrested a 72-year-old female passenger; and seized a total of 10 kilograms of chicken and five kilograms of duck, valued at about $340, onboard.

(May 30, 2005) http://www.customs.gov.hk/eng/new_release_20050530_smuggled_pork_e.html

A total of 429 kg of fresh chicken, 37 kg of fresh duck and 18 kg of fresh goose have been seized. Other than fresh meat, two live chickens were seized and a person was arrested at the Sha Tau Kok Control Point yesterday

(February 7, 2005). http://www.customs.gov.hk/eng/new_release_20050208_smuggling_of_poultry_...

Enforcement actions on examining imported cargoes and baggage were stepped up. As a result, 211 kg of fresh chicken, 7kg of fresh duck and 3.5kg of fresh goose were seized.

(4Feb05) http://www.customs.gov.hk/eng/new_release_20050204_curb_meat_smuggling_e...

Following the seizure of pork and chicken made on January 31, Customs officers of the Shek Chung Au Check Post of the Sha Tau Kok Control Point today (February 3) seized four bags of pork and chicken weighing 68 kg onboard a public light bus running between Sha Tau Kok Village and Sheung Shui.

http://www.customs.gov.hk/eng/new_release_20050203_smuggled_pork_chicken...

I sent email with idea re the mynah being among batch of birds released at temple, inc Chris Patten releasing birds in 1997, to HK Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department; obviously too brief in email, as just received:   [quote]Thanks for your email dated 1.2.2006   Since the release was done in 1997, we cannot ensure whether the mynah therein is one of the birds in the batch released. Thank you for bringing the matter to our attention.[/quote] to which I've replied:   I hadn't meant the mynah was released in 1997! That was just to show that bird releases can take place at the temple.   I meant, instead, the mynah was maybe released there during this Chinese New Year. (At Wong Tai Sin temple or nearby).   If so, the mynah was not a wild bird, but was captive.   The magpie robins maybe also captive (for fighting?) - have they been examined for signs of this?   Captivity/trade a far more likely means of these birds becoming infected with H5N1 than any contact with wild ducks (where to find these in HK outside Deep Bay? - not easy)   For instance, in Shenzhen I've been to market where they had both poultry/farm animals, and wild animals inc birds. This species is commonly sold in markets in s China:
Wild Animal Trade Monitoring Selected Markets Guangzhou Shenzhen (pdf file)

[quote] Preliminary testing of a Common Magpie found in Sham Tseng has indicated a suspected case of H5 avian influenza, a spokesman for the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) said today (February 4), adding that further confirmatory tests are being conducted.

The bird was collected by AFCD staff in Yuen Tun Village, Tsing Lung Tau following a public referral on February 2. Appearing sick at the time, it was transferred to the department’s Animal Management Centre/North and died the following day.

The spokesman said there is only one commercial chicken farm within five kilometres of where the bird was found. No abnormal mortality or symptoms of avian influenza was detected among the chicken flocks upon inspection.[/quote]
http://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/200602/04/P200602040170.htm

This is on west coast of the New Territories (near Tsuen Wan), so not real close to the other recent H5N1 reports in Hong Kong.
Magpies have tested positive for H5N1 before (eg ne China), perhaps contracting after scavenging carcasses of infected birds.
Not far from Wong Tai Sin (crested mynah), but also not a species I'd expect among birds released in ceremonies.

6 Feb update: results positive for H5N1.

Post edited by: martin, at: 2006/02/06 15:15

A dead chicken found abandoned (with 2 live chickens) in Tuen Mun, nw Hong Kong just tested positive for H5.
A little egret found dead nearby has indicated positive for H5.

A dead Japanese White-eye found on steps of a school in Mong Kok, Kowloon, tested positive for H5.
Another species that seems odd for infection with H5.
Very common cagebird; Mong Kok is close to major bird markets. Also common in wild - inc in trees in urban areas.

The egret has tested positive for H5N1.

Seems like he birds with H5N1 are now just dropping out of the sky in Hong Kong.

I hadn't thought that so many species were involved..,

[quote]Seems like he birds with H5N1 are now just dropping out of the sky in Hong Kong.[/quote]

Ain't that the truth!
I now don't venture outside without wearing a crash helmet, and a big rubber suit I had my wife make for me.

red-whiskered bulbul found dead at same Mong Kok school; no news yet re whether H5 positive.
Another common HK resident.

Email just in from Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department:
[quote]According to the information from our Veterinary Officers, the concerned Magpie Robin is probably a wild bird as the features of captive/cage birds mentioned in your e-mail below could not be found. In addition, they examined the stomach of the bird and found that it was empty.[/quote]
[my email:
Have they been examined for signs they may have been captive birds:
feather wear, damage to bills, feet etc; even examination of stomach
contents?
- and are there other indicators of whether they were likely local wild
birds, or of captive origin? (any differences between our birds, and
those that are imported) ]

Post edited by: martin, at: 2006/02/10 07:45

A dead common (black-billed) magpie found in Mong Kok, Kowloon on 17 February is evidently H5 positive, being tested for H5N1.

Another urban case in a wild bird (or former cage bird - though magpies are not popular cage birds that I know of).

Close to the main bird markets in Hong Kong.
Yet:

[quote]AFCD staff inspected stalls in the Bird Garden in Mong Kok today and found nothing abnormal among the pet birds there for sale.

“We have maintained close surveillance of pet bird stalls in the Garden with daily inspections. Collection of swab samples from the stalls will be further increased,” the spokesman said.

More than 200 swab samples are collected from local pet bird stalls each month to test for avian influenza viruses, including those of the Bird Garden. Test results were all negative.[/quote]
http://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/200602/18/P200602180167.htm

More bodies adding to the puzzle, with H5(N1) now scattered in resident species - mainly songbirds - chiefly in Kowloon and on Hong Kong Island.

govt news release 21 Feb:
[quote]Preliminary testing of three dead birds collected on Hong Kong Island and in Kowloon has indicated suspected cases of H5 avian influenza, a spokesman for the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) said today (February 21), adding that further confirmatory tests are being conducted.

One of them was a dead Large-billed Crow removed by AFCD staff from Magnolia Road, Yau Yat Chuen [Kowloon] on February 18 upon a public referral.

The two other cases involved a Munia found dead on Repulse Bay Road and a White-backed Munia found dead on Queen’s Road East [both locations Hong Kong Island] on February 19. The carcasses were also collected by AFCD staff upon public referrals.[/quote]
http://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/200602/21/P200602210232.htm

govt news release yesterday:
[quote]Preliminary testing of a house crow found dead in Cheung Sha Wan [Kowloon] has indicated a suspected case of H5 avian influenza, the Agriculture, Fisheries & Conservation Department says. More tests are being conducted.

The carcass was collected from Lai On Estate on February 20[/quote]
http://www.news.gov.hk/en/category/healthandcommunity/060222/html/060222...

[quote]HONG KONG, Feb 22 (Reuters) - Virus samples taken from wild birds found dead in Hong Kong recently were closely linked to a strain of the H5N1 virus that surfaced in Japan and South Korea in 2004, but not the one spreading in Europe, a top scientist said.[/quote]
Though - wouldn't you know it - article includes suggestion this virus is entrenched in wild birds (in Asia), no real evidence is given. Even with Japan case that's mentioned, smuggling/trade remains a possibility for introduction of virus. Just emailed Dr Malik Peiris, who's quoted in article: If this H5N1 virus indeed entrenched in wild birds (Reuters, quoting you), why such an odd assortment of species in Hong Kong - all resident (well, little egret likely is), and mainly songbirds; why such tendency to be in Kowloon and on HK Island? How to infect, say, a white-eye or a magpie robin? Why the flurry of cases after around Chinese New Year, when two chickens positive? And, why all the tests of healthy wild birds coming up negative for this strain? Indeed, H5N1 in general appears very rare in healthy wild birds. Very curious, I think. (As Russia, reportedly, prepares to deter wild birds from nesting this spring - at least in Nobosibirisk, as wild birds believed by some to be major H5N1 vectors. Are conservation implications.) - further thoughts (not in the email): Really seems odd notions by Malik P. Based on v scant info, suggests this H5N1 strain is endemic in wild birds, linking Japan/HK. Yet, he's among team who suggested wild birds have different strain at Poyang, thence to Qinghai, then on to Europe. Even though Poyang surely far more linked to Hong Kong by migration routes than ii is to Qinghai (no direct links known from Poyang to Qinghai?) Too bad that virologists saying stuff re wild birds without taking trouble to learn about them. (Ornithologists now having to try n learn some things about viruses, after all.)

[quote]Preliminary testing of a House Crow found dead in Shek Kip Mei has indicated a suspected case of H5 avian influenza, a spokesman for the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) said today (February 24), adding that further confirmatory tests are being conducted.

The carcass was collected by AFCD staff on Tai Hang Tung Estate following a public referral on February 23.

As for three earlier suspected cases involving a dead Large-billed Crow found in Yau Yat Tsuen, a dead Munia found on Repulse Bay Road, and a dead White-backed Munia found in Wan Chai, the spokesman said all of the birds were confirmed to have H5N1 virus after a series of laboratory tests.[/quote]
http://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/200602/24/P200602240258.htm

- so, H5N1 being spread in mainly urban Hong Kong by wild birds ... dead ones, that is! (Any apparently healthy wild birds tested positive yet?)

Meanwhile, South China Morning Post reports Agriculture, Fisheries and Cibservatuib Department saying it's ok for people to kill house crows and pigeons.
Crazy times!

now, a dead common (black-billed) magpie, Hong Kong Island:
[quote]The carcass was collected by AFCD staff on Island Road following a public referral on February 24.[/quote]
http://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/200602/25/P200602250210.htm
Another corvid (crow/magpie) - ie another scavenger, near the city.

The magpie proved H5N1 positive; so too two house crows:

[quote]The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) said today (February 27) that three earlier suspected cases were confirmed to be H5N1 positive after a series of laboratory tests.

The cases involve a dead House Crow collected on Lai On Estate on February 20, a dead House Crow collected on Tai Hang Tung Estate on February 23, and a dead Common Magpie collected on Island Road on February 24.[/quote]
http://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/200602/27/P200602270247.htm

Bit of a lull in cases right now.

Seems we've had virus in poultry/songbirds (all songbird species that may have been from captivity), then crows/magpies.

Possibly, then, moving from introductions through markets, to dying out in wild bar some scavengers - and these not in major numbers.

Just seen that HK Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department now has pdf file for download, with H5N1 infections in birds this year. Useful; as well as species and dates, includes a map. Indeed shows broad pattern (tho v small data sample for being conclusive re pattern), with some infections New Territories, shift to Kowloon and HK Island. Also, indeed in "wlld" birds trend from songbirds (maybe inc captives?) towards corvids.
After magpie robin on 10 Jan, mainly from 26 January - just before Chinese New Year, with the Year of the Dog beginning on 29 January. No submissions since 25 Feb.

A peregrine found in Tin Shui Wai, northwest Hong Kong (a new town) on 21 March has tested positive for H5N1.
http://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/200603/25/P200603250149.htm
It was an injured bird, reported by member of the public; died the next day.

More than 6,000 dead birds have been tested for H5N1 avian influenza since late October, 2005, with 16 confirmed cases involving two chickens and 14 wild birds.
http://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/200603/23/P200603230199.htm
- note that "native" birds would be more accurate, since not known if wild or captive origin for all the birds.

Press release from HK Govt:

[quote]The scaly-breasted munia found dead in Causeway Bay earlier this week was confirmed to be H5N1 positive after a series of laboratory tests, the Agriculture, Fisheries & Conservation Department says.

The carcass was collected by AFCD staff in Leighton Road following a public referral on December 31.

The department reminded people to observe good personal hygiene, adding they should avoid personal contact with wild birds and live poultry and clean their hands thoroughly after coming into contact with them.

Meanwhile, the department has urged the public not to release pet birds as they have little chance of surviving in the wild.

Noting a report alleging that there is no control on such imports from the Mainland was incorrect, the department emphasised that all consignments from the Mainland must comply with requirements including health certification, and they are subject to inspection whether they enter by sea, air or land in accordance with Public Health (Animals & Birds) Regulations.

Inspection stepped up

The department has stepped up inspection of the Bird Garden from three times a week to five. Samples are regularly collected for testing for avian influenza viruses.

Of the 2,400 samples that were tested last year, none was positive for bird flu.

Fresh droppings from wild birds including migratory birds are also collected for H5 avian influenza testing. Last year, 6,400 samples were collected and the results were all negative.

As for dead birds collected for testing last year, 17 of about 10,000 birds were tested positive. [/quote]
[url=http://www.news.gov.hk/en/category/healthandcommunity/070106/html/070106... bird tests positive for H5N1 [/url]

- as with records of dead birds with H5N1 early last year, an oddity.
Leighton Road's a curious location for finding a "wild" bird of almost any kind - might get sparrows, but I've walked along quite often, and not noticed any birds there: it's urban, and more than a stone's throw from even Victoria Park.
Species odd too: I haven't seen this species in urban HK, not even in parks. Mainly in rural spots, esp grassy areas such as former rice fields, wetlands near Deep Bay. Have seen on Cheung Chau, where I live; only occasional there, so some evidence of wandering.
Checking HK Birdwatchin Soc page, this is one of the two most commonly released specise at temples - released so people can supposedly get karma boost.

More info in thread on the HKBWS site - including distribution map, showing this species wasn't mapped in urban areas including Causeway Bay, as well as article from S China Morning Post on possible link to bird releases, including:
[quote] Richard Corlett, professor of ecology and biodiversity at the University of Hong Kong, said a complete ban on releasing birds was preferable.
"It is a danger to public health because the sellers and buyers come into contact with birds and bird droppings with none of the precautions that are taken with poultry, and the birds are then released into the environment," he said.
A study by a post-doctoral student last year estimated that between 500,000 and a million birds are imported for release every year, Professor Corlett said.
"[These birds] are mostly caught in China. They are not vaccinated, quarantined or inspected, and they were transported into Hong Kong in appallingly dirty and crowded conditions. Many of them are sick and injured," he said. [/quote]
at http://www.hkbws.org.hk/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=1125

Further info - after an email request for guff on the location:

A map of Causeway Bay - not too great - shows Leighton Road:
http://www.hoteltravel.com/hongkong/hong_kong/causeway_bay_map.htm

Yes, it's near stops on the main tram route from Harcourt Garden/Central east to North Point and beyond. Also close to a major MTR station. Causeway Bay's a bustling area, especially for shopping.
Main HK bird market isn't here, but in Kowloon. There are, though, a few bird shops scattered around - can't remember if in Causeway Bay area, but plausible in side streets.
There's a Tin Hau temple a few hundred metres to the east. Can't recall other temples, but there are plenty of temples scattered around HK.

I noticed re the h5n1 positive munia being among five dead birds (all munias?) picked up on Leighton Road. To me, indeed suggestive of being dropped from van, say.
The road is lined by commercial buildings, maybe with a few apartment blocks (pricier; not the kinds of places I'd expect to be transient points for birds).

Last year's minor flurry of h5n1 in "wild birds" involved several rather similar cases - chiefly urban, at least one only a block or two away from main bird market, another very close to a major temple.
I then figured that any traders with birds dying of what may be H5N1 would try to dispose of them without officials knowing.

Meanwhile - touch wood - our key reserve for wild birds is yet to record a single case, despite extensive testing. (I'm of course hoping it stays this way; hope that no h5n1 somehow introduced from farms/markets - densely packed waterbird flocks could be impacted.)

Post edited by: Martin, at: 2007/01/10 16:17

From Associated Press/Canadian Press article: [quote]HONG KONG (AP) - Something was strange about the little brown bird found dead from bird flu in one of Hong Kong's busiest shopping districts. The scaly breasted munia usually lives in rural areas of the territory. So how did it and five others come to be in a bustling urban district - raising the threat of exposing residents and tourists to the virus? Experts think the birds may have been used in a Buddhist ritual that frees hundreds of birds to improve karma. So, with worries rising in Asia about a new outbreak of bird flu, officials are urging the religious practice be stopped to protect public health. ,,, The scaly breasted munia is native to Hong Kong but is usually found in tussocks in rural areas, said Lew Young, a manager at the Chinese territory's Mai Po bird sanctuary. "Six scaly breasted munia being found dead at the same spot at one time easily leads one to suspect whether they were being released," he said. The birds are commonly used in the Buddhist ceremonies, Young added. "They are usually transported to Hong Kong from the mainland in boxes. If one of the birds is sick, the rest are likely to be sick as well since they are crammed in one box," he said. Aidia Chan, a postgraduate student in ecology who studied the releases for her thesis last year at Hong Kong University, said the frequency of releasing birds in Hong Kong is far more than had been suspected. She contacted 229 religious groups in the city and 48 admitted they released birds to seek blessings. The groups practise the ritual one to 18 times each year, releasing as many as 3,000 birds each time, she said. "Based on the figures they gave me, I estimate they released a range of 400,000 to 600,000 birds in 2006," Chan said. "There are also people who buy and release birds individually and there's no way for me to quantify them, so there should be more other than these 48 groups," she said. ...[/quote] Hong Kong Buddhists release birds in ritual, despite bird flu worries

from HK Govt press release, 13 Jan:

[quote]Preliminary testing of a dead bird found in Shek Kip Mei has indicated a suspected case of H5 avian influenza, a spokesman for the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said today (January 13).

Further confirmatory tests are still being conducted.

The carcass of the Crested Goshawk was collected by department staff at the hill behind Shek Kip Mei Health Centre on January 9 after being alerted by a member of the public.[/quote]

Crested Goshawk is a raptor, preying on birds - chiefly songbirds.
Shek Kip Mei is highly urban, chiefly residential area in north Kowloon, with high-rise housing estates. Near the scrubby hillsides of hills just north of Kowloon, so wild Crested Goshawk may well occur here. (Though hope it's checked for signs it was held in captivity, and dumped - as with at least one HK peregrine with H5N1).
My view: if proves to have H5N1, likely caught through a bird it ate. Can speculate that this was a bird released from captivity. (Or, if the goshawk wsa captive, fed on diseased chicken or some other bird.)

Post edited by: Martin, at: 2007/01/14 02:36

Reuters now with piece on Buddhists releasing birds in Hong Kong, inc:

[quote]Six scaly-breasted munias -- a popular species of "prayer birds" used for release in Buddhist rituals to enhance a devotee's karma -- were found dead in a busy shopping on New Year's eve, including one which tested positive for the H5N1 virus.
"We really have to seriously consider this possibility of (prayer bird) infection," said Malik Peiris, a virologist and leading bird flu expert at the University of Hong Kong.
"In Hong Kong, there is no H5N1 activity in poultry. So for this bird that was found dead, the question is how (it) got infected?"
Prayer bird species range from munias, Japanese white-eye, white-rumped munia and tree sparrows costing as little as HK$4 (US$0.50) each, to the more expensive azure-winged magpies and Mongolian larks. Hunters in China use large fine "mist" nets that the birds fly into.
While the Hong Kong government tightly regulates poultry imports, laws for wild bird imports are much more lax, making it a potential crack in the city's bird flu defences.
...
Richard Corlett, a professor of ecology at the University of Hong Kong, said the trade in wild birds was on a much larger scale than previously thought, with at least half a million birds freed by Buddhists in 2005, sometimes thousands at a time.
"Mongolian larks, for instance, must have been caught in northern China, trucked down to Hong Kong then released here in a totally unsuitable environment, where they promptly die."
Mass bird release sites in quiet corners of Hong Kong's country parks are often littered with discarded empty bamboo cages and dead bird carcasses, Corlett added.
Hong Kong's concerns come as the European Union passed new laws last week banning imports of wild birds on health and animal welfare grounds, a move which Corlett said the Hong Kong government should follow.
"There's a great deal of reluctance to acknowledge this is a problem ... You can go and buy 10,000 budgerigars and release them in a country park and there's nothing to stop you doing that," Corlett said.
Some experts see unregulated imports of wild birds as a serious bird flu risk. "This speculation or hypothesis is becoming more and more of a concern. There is more evidence to support this," said Dr. Lo Wing-lok an infectious diseases expert and former legislator.
...[/quote]
[url=http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/HKG272018.htm]HK experts cite "prayer bird" concerns over H5N1[/url]
The (Hong Kong) Standard has a related item, inc:
[quote]A microbiologist has called on the government to step up surveillance on the illegal trade of smuggled birds while an ecologist has suggested a complete ban on the release of wild birds in the SAR, even on religious grounds.
...
"The SAR government should deal with the problem at source and work with the Guangdong authorities to test the birds," microbiologist Lo Wing-lok said Monday.

Lo, who accused the government for trying to evade the problem, insists more can be done to monitor the illegal trade of smuggled wild birds from the mainland.
...
Hong Kong University ecologist Richard Corlett said the goshawk is a predator and the dead one found in Shek Kip Me was most likely released in a religious ceremony [or ate a released bird??].

"Although we cannot know what bird it ate, we do know that the birds released by Buddhists are often in terrible condition because of the cruel way in which they are treated during capture, transport from the mainland and in captivity in Hong Kong, and this makes them very vulnerable to predators like a goshawk," Corlett said.

He added that the more than half a million birds released in Hong Kong each year probably are eaten by predators shortly after being set free.

Corlett suggested a ban on the release of birds on grounds of animal cruelty since almost half a million are captured each year and transported to Hong Kong in atrocious conditions.
...[/quote]
[url=http://www.thestandard.com.hk/news_detail.asp?pp_cat=11&art_id=36148&sid... on wild bird release, smuggler watch sought [/url]

Post edited by: Martin, at: 2007/01/16 16:11

After news re Japanese White-eye and House Crow found dead, and with H5, in Kowloon, posted this to group re H5N1 and wild birds:

Yes, fitting pattern of last year I'm afraid. Both the white-eye and the house crow in urban Kowloon; house crow now a common resident in some parts of Kowloon (yet I've never seen one in HK! - rarely to the estates etc of Kln).
Last night, reporter at S China Morning Post emailed me shot of dead Red-whiskered Bulbul, requesting identification.
Today, on radio, heard mention re White-rumped Munia also found in Kowloon - Boundary Street. Near Mong Kok Bird Market, which being disinfected/checked, and where, reportedly, sales have halved in last few days (oh dear, how I sob...).

Haven't seen re whether birds being checked for possibility of captive origin.

This email has been circulated in HK by an ecology prof:

[quote]Dear All,

I am talking to the Centre for Health Protection's Scientific
Committee on Emerging and Zoonotic Diseases next Wednesday about
religious bird release. My main message will be that the half-million
or more birds imported and released every year are the most likely
origin of the urban H5N1 outbreaks in January-March 2006 and in 2007.
The species involved are either ones released in large numbers or
species that would predate or scavenge dead or dying birds. If anyone
thinks "most likely" is too strong, please could you provide more
likely alternatives within the next few days!

Talking to reporters over the last couple of days, I have the
impression that - while we all agree that importing huge numbers of
birds under dreadful conditions to release into unfamiliar
environments is a bad thing - we are giving out mixed messages on
what ought to be done about it. I would like to suggest that we all
agree on the EU's solution, i.e. a permanent ban on the import of
wild-caught birds, with all captive-bred birds required to be fitted
with unique, traceable closed rings or microchips. If this was done
after consultation, and with perhaps a 1-year grace period, it should
cause nobody any hardship. Hong Kong can do without HK$4 birds.

It would only impact the high-volume low-profit-margin end of the
bird trade, since many of the most popular cage-birds are already
captive-bred and the parrots, at least, have numbered rings. The
massive improvement in bird welfare should please the Buddhists and -
I hope - they would have second thoughts about releasing more
expensive birds of obvious captive origin. I cannot see Beijing
or Guangzhou objecting, since much of the current trade is illegal
or barely legal under a variety of local and national laws.

Would WWF, TRAFFIC, HKBWS and/or KFBG be interested in drafting a
formal proposal on this that we could then all sign?

Feel free to pass this around, but please don't reply to everybody
unselectively since it just clogs people's mailboxes.

Best wishes,

Richard [Corlett]

Department of Ecology & Biodiversity
The University of Hong Kong
Pokfulam Road[/quote]

News recently in of dead peregrine with H5N1; also found in urban area - Tsuen Wan, by northwest Kowloon. (Was it captive, I wonder.)

Just asked to comment on article in S China Morning Post today, which began:

Mai Po Nature Reserve in the northwestern New Territories provides a "natural" early warning system for bird flu in Hong Kong, according to a visiting bird flu expert.

Dirk Pfeiffer, professor of veterinary epidemiology at the University of London's Royal Veterinary College, said the number of dead birds with H5N1 found this month was insignificant compared with the number of carcasses collected for testing and should not cause alarm.

Up to yesterday, only seven out of 1,600 birds collected had been found with H5N1 flu. This compared with January last year when 470 dead birds were collected, four of which tested positive.

For the whole of last year, 17 out of 10,000 birds collected had H5N1.

Although any "trigger point" marking the explosion of bird flu would be difficult to anticipate, Dr Pfeiffer said "to be quite frank, you would see an excess mortality in Mai Po before that actually occurs". "Before you see large percentages in resident wild birds you would actually see something in Mai Po," he said.

"You actually have a nice warning system there."

Even if wild birds at Mai Po became infected, it would be "a long way" before this would spread from poultry to humans, and then among humans.

it concluded:

Meanwhile, television and radio announcements will be broadcast from next week advising people not to release birds into the wild, whether for Buddhist merit-making ceremonies or any other cultural or religious reason.

"We have talked to Buddhist and Taoist associations and they agreed not to release birds," said Thomas Sit Hon-chung, assistant director of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department.

He said it would be useless to ban the practice because Hong Kong was a big area.

I've replied:

I saw that remark re Mai Po, and was rather surprised.

Seemed to me that made by an "expert" who had parachuted in, and had little knowledge re wild birds and H5N1.

Not sure why he didn't stress that, despite extensive testing, not one bird from Mai Po has yet proven H5N1 positive. This is strong evidence that waterbirds - the main reservoir for natural bird flus - do not sustain and spread H5N1 (chiefly as "dead ducks don't fly"; HK yet to find H5N1 in an apparently healthy wild bird of any kind). He might also have noted that the species and pattern involved in H5N1 in dead wild birds in HK this year does not fit what you'd expect were migratory - or even resident - wild birds the source. Four songbirds, plus two birds of prey and a crow - all species that are resident in Hong Kong; the songbirds all commonly released in rituals, the birds of prey mainly bird eaters (and I haven't seen whether were signs either or both may have been captive birds that were dumped, as evidently case with one or two peregrines that tested positive here in the past), the crow a general feeder including scavenger.

So, Mai Po would be early warning system were H5N1 actually spread by wild birds. But as this isn't the case, it's the wrong place to look. Worldwide, too much attention has been diverted to looking at wild birds, rather than better scrutinising poultry trade, legal and - very importantly - illegal. Spread isn't from wild birds to poultry and on to humans. It's from poultry to poultry, poultry to wild birds, poultry to humans, poultry to cats, poultry to even tigers (Thai zoo).

(Do I think there's conspiracy here? Something like it, I'm afraid, yes. Officials don't want to admit failings. FAO's chief vet Joseph Domenech has said something along lines of there being threats to food security if poultry industry is chiefly to blame. FAO had promoted fish farming with chicken manure used as feed: seems a potential reservoir for H5N1, as I saw in Indonesia: http://www.drmartinwilliams.com/conservation/catfish-farm.html I've read of China likewise using poultry manure as fish feed; even dead chickens can be used - as in my photos. HK doesn't do this, I'm told by Lew Young, manager of Mai Po. Poultry industry is massive - farms can have many thousands of birds. Much money involved. Attached of interest here, perhaps, albeit lengthy. [A report by GRAIN, on industrial poultry farming connection to H5N1])

Govt's APIs regarding Buddhist releases are, in this regard, late in being introduced. Even H5N1 in wild birds records early last year indicated wild bird trade/releases was key culprit (most records were urban; yet vast majority of our wild birds are in rural areas, with key concentrations at Mai Po and elsewhere in Deep Bay). Perhaps, then, after readily blaming wild birds - from Kowloon Park and Penfold Park outbreaks some years ago, onwards - govt here is seeing a little sense.

Post edited by: Martin, at: 2007/01/31 13:47

A few more dead birds with H5N1 in HK city - all Kowloon.
A blue magpie: resident species.
Two silver-eared mesias: not native to Hong Kong, though breeds in forests - population established from birds escaping/released from captivity. These local birds restricted to woods. As these two were real close to the main bird market, and distant from forest, points extremely strongly to bird market as the source.

Post made to birdforum.net, by Mike Kilburn of HK Birdwatching Society:

[quote]Another interesting discovery in Hong Kong. A friend of mine has reviewed the data on H5N1-infected birds in Hong Kong and found that in the last 2 years all the birds infected are either commonly kept as cagebirds, commonly released by Buddhists to gain spiritual merit, or urban raptors and scavengers which would be likely to prey on sick or dead birds.

Even more interesting . . .

Of the 10 H5N1-positive birds this year 8 (80%) were found within a 3km radius of the Mong Kok Bird Market and 7 (70%) within 1km!

Of the 15 cases last year the figures were 7 (47%)within 3 km and 4 (27%) within 1km.

During the same period not a single bird was discovered with H5N1among the thousands of birds tested at Mai Po.

Does this not suggest what the source might be to anyone?

Apparently not to our government's health officials, vets or conservation staff

Interesting facts:
1. Mong Kok is one of the most densely populated places on the planet.
2. The bird market remains open and birds continue to arrive in Hong Kong
3.Our Health Minister has publicly spoken out in defence of the livelihoods of the bird sellers and has not closed the market. (priorities a la DEFRA?)
4. UN figures suggest around 1 million birds are traded through HK every year
5. A recent HK University study suggested an additional 600,000 were coming in annually from China without regulation, inspection or quarantine
6. Our Government CITES officers monitor a paltry 40,000 imported birds per year
7. Two Silver-eared Mesias - the bird which brought H5N1 to the UK last year were found with H5N1 just 200m from the Mong Kok Bird market earlier this month. [/quote]

Following Mike's post, a dead Common Kestrel found in Kowloon confirmed to have H5N1.
Another raptor, which could feed on sick small songbirds.

Then, news of two dead munias found in Kowloon, being tested for H5N1.
One a scaly-breasted: native to HK, but old rice fields not urban.
The other a chestnut munia: not native, known to be traded.

Have recently been media reports re ideas for limiting bird trade and bird releases in Hong Kong - but no real action taken.

Robert Webster's been a key blamer of wild birds for migrating about spreading H5N1 (i've emailed him at times).

Now, tho, reportedly seeing some daylight re HK records of dead munias etc with H5N1.

[quote]HONG KONG (Reuters) - Leading virologists urged governments on Saturday to curb the trade of wild birds as they can spread the H5N1 bird flu virus, which has made a comeback in many parts of the world in recent months.

The warning comes as Hong Kong confirmed a scaly-breasted munia found dead in late February in the densely-populated district of Sham Shui Po had tested positive for the H5N1.

It was the 13th wild bird to have been found dead with the virus in Hong Kong since the start of this year.

"The munia is not a migratory bird. Again, it points to humans and the trade in movement of birds that are responsible for spreading this virus," said virologist Robert Webster from St Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis.

Small, wild birds are bought and sold across borders and released for religious purposes in many parts of the world. The practice is particularly strong in Hong Kong, which has a huge population of Buddhists and Taoists. The city imports the small birds mostly from mainland China.[/quote]
still manages to get in mention of migrating birds spreading it about, at the end - and his Trojan Ducks theory (might apply in domestic ducks, but could also be the case that vaccinated poultry harbour h5n1.
But, progress it seems.
[url=http://www.reuters.com/article/environmentNews/idUSHKG26871220070304?pag... flu experts urge halt to wild bird trade[/url]

Here's a letter I sent S China Morning Post; published a couple of days ago.

Dear Sir:

Suppose you were suddenly grabbed from your everyday life, shoved in a cage crammed with other humans, transported and sold in squalid conditions in which many others die and you could become diseased, and you were then moved again, and dumped in an area far from your home. And the only reason for all this was that the person releasing you could gain "karma". Would you be grateful?

That's akin to the situation faced by hundreds of thousands of wild birds that are traded in Hong Kong each year. Their plight has been highlighted lately as some of these birds - and local birds that have eaten them - have been found dead in the city, and tests have revealed they had H5N1.

The Buddhist practice of releasing captive birds and other animals as a way of doing good may have been worthwhile originally. But today, for the most part, it's clearly a horrible practice - involving far more suffering and death than if these releases did not happen at all.

Despite concerns regarding H5N1, the government is loathe to legislate against the practice. Yet Buddhist associations have key roles to play as well. They can surely advise Hong Kong Buddhists that if they wish to help wild animals, there are many far better ways to do so than releasing birds - or even fish - into environments that may be totally unsuitable. If wildlife truly benefits, the Buddhists helping them really will merit karma.

Press release from Hong Kong Birdwatching Society includes:

Echoing sentiments expressed by leading virologists Professor John Oxford from the UK and the Dr Robert Webster from the United States (appendix A), Hong Kong-based microbiologist Professor Malik Peiris said that the 500,000+ wild bird trade into Hong was the most likely source of the H5N1-infected wild birds that were being repeatedly detected in Hong Kong:

“Recognizing that the natural habitats of many of these infected birds is not urban, and that the Chestnut Munia in particular no longer occurs in the wild in Hong Kong in any habitat, there is no other logical explanation for the presence of H5N1 in birds found in these highly urbanized locations. Given that such infected birds pose a threat to the poultry industry and to human health, more stringent and effective regulation or an outright ban on the trade of wild birds seems a sensible precaution,” said Professor Peiris.

The Hong Kong Bird Watching Society (HKBWS) called on the Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food Dr York Chow and the Centre for Health Protection to recognize the wild bird trade and religious releases as an important source of H5N1 introduction into Hong Kong, and to close this route for human infection by banning the trade.

“Government data shows that the most feared case for a new pandemic - H5N1 - is being found weekly in Mong Kok, Sham Shui Po and Happy Valley - some of the most densely populated areas on Earth,” said Mike Kilburn, Vice Chairman of HKBWS. “Munias and mesias – non-migratory birds commonly sold for religious release, have been clearly identified as carriers of the virus.”

You can read the release - and see map with "wild bird" cases in Hong Kong last year and this - at: Bird">http://www.hkbws.org.hk/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=1735&highlight=h5n1]Bird Trade Bringing H5N1 to Mong Kok, Sham Shui Po & Happy Valley Global H5N1 Experts & Hong Kong Bird Watching Society Calls for Ban

[quote]The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) said today (June 1) that the Starling found earlier in Mong Kok was confirmed to be H5N1 positive after a series of laboratory tests.

The Starling was collected at 101-109 Boundary Street on May 26 by AFCD staff following a public referral.

A department spokesman reminded the public to observe good personal hygiene.

"They should avoid personal contact with wild birds and live poultry and clean their hands thoroughly after coming into contact with them," he said.[/quote]
[url=http://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/200706/01/P200706010206.htm]Starling tests positive for H5N1 virus [/url]
Another case from real near the bird markets.
A species that's mainly a winter visitor to Hong Kong, and then found in rural areas (especially Mai Po), and is so hard to find now it's summer that even records of one bird are "news" in local birding world.

Daft to suggest avoiding contact with wild birds!

Another H5N1 casualty in Hong Kong - a Common or Black-billed Magpie found at Sha Tin (a new town/city to the north of Kowloon). Fits previous pattern - likely a wild bird, but scavenger, as others in crow family.

[quote]The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said today (June 8) that the Common Magpie found earlier in Sha Tin was confirmed to be H5N1 positive after a series of laboratory tests.

The carcass of the bird was collected at 13 Jat Min Chuen Street, Sha Tin on May 31 by department staff following a public referral.[/quote]
[url=http://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/200706/08/P200706080144.htm]Common Magpie tests positive for H5N1 virus[/url]

After several h5n1 records indicating bird markets in Kowloon are source of H5N1 (in turn from markets in China?), now a positive result from bird in the market:

[quote]The H5N1 virus has been detected in a daurian starling faecal swab sample taken from a pet shop in Yuen Po Street Bird Garden in Mong Kok.

The Agriculture, Fisheries & Conservation Department tonight temporarily closed the shop and took its birds for observation and further testing. It also ordered all nearby bird shops to undergo thorough cleansing.

The sample was collected on June 4 under the department's routine avian influenza surveillance programme.

The Leisure & Cultural Services Department will enhance cleansing of the Bird Garden, and the Food & Environmental Hygiene Department will boost street cleaning near it.

The Centre for Health Protection has put all stall operators and workers under medical surveillance. It has launched a hotline (2125 1122) to provide health advice to people who may have recently visited bird pet shops.[/quote]
[url=http://www.news.gov.hk/en/category/healthandcommunity/070617/html/070617... sample H5N1-positive[/url]

Another winter arrives, another report of dead wild bird with H5N1. Little egret mostly resident here; Tuen Mun an urban area, near some places w farms (where can wonder if receive smuggled poultry, toss any that die into nearby creeks, where might be scavenged). [quote]A little egret found in a Hong Kong park has tested positive for the H5N1 bird flu virus, the government said on Saturday. The bird was collected at the Tuen Mun Park in the New Territories on Nov. 18, the city's agriculture, fisheries and conservation department said in a brief statement.[/quote] Hong Kong finds egret with bird flu in city park

After perhaps six dead herons or egrets and a dead common buzzard found in Hong Kong and shown to have H5N1 this winter, I posted this to HK Birdw Soc forum:

Indeed intriguing re just how these herons/egrets have been infected.

If not scavenging bird corpses (with Grey Heron before, I've wondered re scavenging dead chickens tossed into creeks),
then perhaps from water - but why so few individuals, why not ducks (which we know can readily catch n spread wild bird flus - Anatidae evidently being chief reservoirs of these wild flus)?
From fish, with sufficient virus in stomachs?? (maybe after eating poultry manure, offal from infected poultry?)

Had a bit of correspondence w HK food n hygiene bureau, after I sent missive complaining re latest Mai Po Nature Reserve closure [after a dead egret/heron w h5n1 was found nearby], saying it was knee jerk reaction.

Joyce Kok replied, inc:

the fact that HPAI virus can be transmitted from wild birds to humans directly or indirectly through contaminatedmaterials.

I replied:

"HPAI virus can be transmitted from wild birds to humans directly or indirectly through contaminated materials."

- any evidence for this.

...

.,..

thought not

- and eventually received:

Thank you for your two emails dated 10 March 2008 and thanks again for your concern on the control of avian influenza measures.

The H5N1 virus we isolated from wild birds in Hong Kong has so far proved to be highly pathogenic avian influenza virus which can be lethal. As we could not ignore the possibility that the virus could be transmitted from wild birds to humans directly or indirectly through contaminated materials, it would be necessary for the administration to introduce measures to reduce such risk.

We are sorry for any inconvenience caused to you during the closure of Mai Po Nature Reserve.

to which, I've just responded:

Thank you for your email, in which you support my belief there is no scientific basis for closing Mai Po because a dead bird or two with H5N1 has been found nearby.

"we could not ignore the possibility that the virus could be transmitted from wild birds to humans directly or indirectly through contaminated materials" - this is vague and woolly minded. Not remotely scientific.

As is clear from evidence worldwide, the H5N1 variant of concern is primarily a poultry disease. And whilst the administration has done much to reduce the incidence in local poultry, and associated markets (such as the bird market), we have not lately seen such draconian measures as closure taken recently.

As you should be aware, no wild bird species is known to be capable of surviving, sustaining and spreading H5N1 poultry flu. It is highly lethal to wild birds, so an infected bird soon sickens, and dies, swiftly ending a potential chain of transmission.

Despite extensive testing, not one apparently healthy wild bird has tested positive for H5N1 poultry flu in Hong Kong. The dead wild (and "wild" - for some individuals surely or probably from captivity) birds found in Hong Kong that tested positive for h5n1 have been from scattered locations. Despite the bird concentrations at Mai Po, and surveillance there, is it just one case from Mai Po over the years? - in turn, suggesting H5N1 is rare in wild birds, but overwhelmingly outside the reserve. You might wish to consider just how and where these birds may have contracted the virus - scavenging dead, dumped poultry (smuggled in, so with chance of h5n1), or infected songbirds from captivity?

Especially with birdwatching not involving contact with wild birds, and no case worldwide (that I'm aware of) of a person thought to have contracted h5n1 from a wild bird, there is and was no discernible risk to Mai Po visitors.

Thus, knee-jerk reaction would indeed seem an appropriate description for the Mai Po closures.

I've also sent Joyce a copy of my article on the Tooth Fairy Bird: the much mooted yet never discovered bird species that can survive and sustain and spread h5n1 poultry flu.

Updated: received this from Joyce on 8 April:

Thank you for your emails dated 21 and 25 March 2008.

As mentioned in my email dated 18 March 2008, the H5N1 virus isolated from wild birds in Hong Kong have been proved to be lethal. It was similar to the type of virus that have infected people and caused fatality in different countries. This is the scientific basis for the in-house experts to assess the situation for the development of different measures to prevent avian influenza outbreak in Hong Kong.

We hope you would appreciate that, being a responsible Government, we have the responsibility to introduce appropriate measures to reduce the risk of avian influenza outbreak in Hong Kong. The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) are responsible for providing opinions in mapping out preventive and control measures against the spread of the avian influenza. We understand that the AFCD has met with the representatives of the World Wide Fund Hong Kong (WWFHK) in March 2008 and exchanged views on the existing precautionary measures against avian influenza with regard to the Mai Po Natural Reserve.

- and only just responded (now 27 May):

Thank you for your latest email, in our somewhat erratic correspondence.

Isn't it true that the virus from wild birds in HK is similar to a virus proven to be lethal to humans: no one has (I hope!) injected the actual virus into humans to see how it affects them?

Anyway, even if virus in dead wild birds can indeed prove lethal to humans, this in itself is flimsy as basis for closing Mai Po.

Has H5N1 even been found at Mai Po, despite extensive monitoring for dead birds, testing in healthy wild birds there? If not, surely science would say Mai Po is one of the safest places in Hong Kong. Safer, by far, than a place like Tuen Mun.

I trust the "in-house experts" make regular visits to places like Mai Po, observing wild birds in bid to understand the situation. I greatly hope they are indeed expert on the issues, having read information such as I have sent you, and presented - at length - on my H5N1 and wild birds forum; I hope these experts publish in respected academic journals, showing their extensive knowledge of viruses, wild birds, and evolution - which, as these experts appreciate, are all important when considering H5N1 and wild birds. I hope the "in-house experts" do not simply remain in house, shunning debate.

Indeed, AFCD officials have met Mai Po staff regarding H5N1 and wild birds; however, they could be no more than intermediaries for the "in-house experts" - who perhaps seem rather fond of using intermediaries to interact with the world. It remains deeply sad that there have not been direct discussions between FHB and Mai Po staff.

You know, some folk might feel a little cynical here, and suggest Mai Po is just an easy target - easily closed, by FHB seeking to take some action in response to H5N1: action that does not target poultry industry, which as we all know is the source of the H5N1 poultry flu viruses.

At least now, we're seeing H5N1 does not look to be a threat to humanity. As your "in-house experts" will readily explain, this follows from science, predictable from theories on evolution and flu, which also explain why wild bird flus are mild, and lethal flus aren't sustained by wild birds, as dead ducks don't fly - and don't transmit diseases to anyone who simply looks at them.

Took a while, but received this from Food n Health Bureau:

Thank you for your email.

Overseas  studies  have  shown  that  migratory  water  birds are a natural
reservoir  of the highly pathogenic H5 avian influenza (HPAI) virus.  These
birds  may  spread the virus to other birds when congregating.  Every year,
over  100  000 migratory birds visit Hong Kong and Mai Po Nature Reserve is
the  major  congregation place for these birds, especially water birds.  It
is for this reason that the Reserve attracts many visitors.

The  potential transmission of HPAI viruses from other regions to Hong Kong
via  migratory  wild  birds has long been of concern to the public.  In the
area  of  Mai  Po Nature Reserve, faecal droppings or cloacal swabs of live
wild  birds  were  regularly  collected  and  tested  by  the  Agriculture,
Fisheries  and  Conservation  Department  (AFCD) and the University of Hong
Kong.  In 2007, over 8,700 dead birds had been tested for HPAI.  There were
21  dead  wild  birds,  including 3 water birds, tested positive for highly
pathogenic H5N1 viruses.

We  hope  you  would understand that in view of the risks posed by the HPAI
virus,  the  Government  has  to  take  appropriate measures to prevent the
possible spread of the disease in Hong Kong and to protect public health.

Oh dear, seems our paper pushers are firm Tooth Fairy Bird believers!
I've replied:

Thank you for your latest email.
This only reinforces my belief that science is not behind the closures of Mai Po in supposed attempts to reduce threats from bird flu. Instead, we have something more akin to arm waving (as one of my physical chemistry lecturers put it), with leaping to conclusions; almost a superstitious belief - as if the Tooth Fairy Bird I've written of is alive and well, and living in the brains of the Food and Healthy Bureau.
Sadly, these anonymous "experts" in the Dept of Health would seem not too strong on science, and lacking understanding of the natural world, including wild birds, and evolution. It would do them good to get out more, and do a bit of thinking.

"Overseas  studies  have  shown  that  migratory  water  birds are a natural reservoir  of the highly pathogenic H5 avian influenza (HPAI) virus. "

- you need hardly say more really.
Overseas studies - yet we talk of Mai Po, where there have been significant studies of avian flu in wild birds.
Also, "natural reservoir of H5" - when it is h5n1 of forms ("genotype Z" etc) from poultry farms that are important.

Suppose I were to suggest that movements of people should be controlled, as many are carriers of coronaviruses?
- ridiculous, right? - as the fact SARS is a coronavirus does not mean all coronaviruses are bad.
A great many people have the common cold, much as many wild birds have avian flus; including H5 (albeit H5 in wild birds can be low path, too, I believe)

Studies including, importantly, at Mai Po show that wild birds are not good reservoirs of H5N1 of the forms that are of concern - which might be better termed poultry flus, as they originated from poultry farms.

As mentioned ad infinitum, by myself, WWF, members of the HK BIrdwatching Society and so forth - assessments of the dead "wild birds" with H5N1 in recent years have shown that several were not of wild origin; also the dead birds tended to be found in and around urban areas; there seems a pretty good correlation with bird and even poultry markets.

Despite extensive testing of healthy wild birds at Mai Po, all wild birds - and "wild" birds - found to have H5N1 in Hong Kong have been dead, or sick and dying.
No apparently healthy wild bird has been found to have H5N1; no H5N1 case as yet at Mai Po.

I could re-iterate re evolution and infectious diseases.
However, the above - as my previous emails - should suffice to show that closing Mai Po was little more than a knee-jerk reaction; not a benefit to people's health.
[You want to stop remote health risks, go ahead and try: maybe keep people in lest meteorites smack into them when outdoors, or whatever.
Perhaps more absurd than closures: banning birdwatching tours in Kowloon Park, when the park itself was not closed. Nobody can come up with a shred of science behind this. Nobody.]
I'm sure you agree.

I hope the "experts" will take some measures to acquaint themselves with the natural world, including birds - I'm sure the Mai Po staff would be happy to take them around come late autumn, when waterbirds abound.

Fingers crossed!

Letter I sent Hong Kong's Sunday Morning Post, appeared today (edited a little there):
[quote]I refer to the letter from O.H. Mark (4 January), saying we need a strategy to cull pigeons.
Sadly, it appears O.H. Mark is among those who have been hoodwinked by people claiming we are threatened by flu carried by wild birds including pigeons. Such claims have more to do with finding scapegoats for the shortcomings of the poultry industry, coupled with ignorance of evolution, than of reality.
While birds - especially waterfowl - indeed carry a variety of bird flus, they are not major vectors of the nasty variants of H5N1 that have evolved in the poultry industry. This is because the nasty variants are lethal to most birds; and as dead ducks - and dead pigeons - don't fly, the variants quickly die out in the wild.
Further, the H5N1 variants have evolved in poultry, not in humans. Hence they are highly dangerous to birds including chickens; but are not a substantial, plague-like health risk to humans. A dangerous human flu must evolve in humans, and evidence shows this requires special circumstances - soldiers massed in World War One trench warfare, or people gathered in rural areas during grandiose socialist experiments.
I hope, then, that O.H. Mark will not run for cover on next seeing pigeons, and will consider that though his family lives within the city, his daughter need not grow up in a sadly sterile environment.[/quote]

And another letter to SCM Post, published today. Followed Hong Kong government closing Mai Po reserve as a dead swallow with H5N1 was found nearby; WWF Hong Kong CEO wrote to the paper complaining, government department responded, and I then sent this:

[quote][b]Mai Po and the Dead Ducks Don't Fly Principle[/b]

I refer to the long and yet insubstantial letter from Dr Mary Chow, for director of agriculture, fisheries and conservation ("Public health is main concern during closure of bird reserves"), which sought to justify closures of Mai Po as a result of isolated cases of dead birds being found, and testing positive for H5N1 bird flu.

For five years, I have been active in striving to highlight the fact that wild birds do not sustain and spread virulent forms of H5N1. Overwhelmingly, birds that catch H5N1 sicken, and die: which might be summarised as "Dead Ducks Don't Fly". Yet there have been considerable efforts to show otherwise, and to blame wild birds for spreading flu; and remarkably little effort to investigate the role of the poultry industry, including extensive poultry smuggling.

As Dr Chow is aware, yet many officials and industry people are loathe to admit, highly pathogenic - highly lethal - forms of bird flu are products of the poultry industry. The virulent strains of H5N1 of concern evolved in the poultry industry - particularly in factory farming conditions that are ideally suited to evolving deadly diseases; the poultry industry has sustained H5N1, despite eradication efforts.

Hence, this "bird flu" is something of a misnomer: H5N1 would be better termed "poultry flu". There is justification for measures to limit spread within the poultry industry, particularly in crowded farms and markets rather than backyards. However, measures such as the recent closure of Mai Po because of a single dead swallow being found outside the reserve are over-reacting, and not based on science.

Extensive testing at Mai Po and - I believe - worldwide has yet to find even one apparently healthy wild bird with virulent H5N1: the Dead Ducks Don't Fly principle holds. So when all birds at Mai Po look healthy, they surely are healthy. Dr Chow notes the reserve closure would minimise human contact with wild birds and their faecal droppings. Yet I have been visiting Mai Po for some 23 years, and not once come into contact with a wild bird there; nor am I prone to touching their droppings - or eating them, as flu is not contracted through skin.

The closure decision would appear political - perhaps showing the poultry industry it is not being singled out. It not only stopped visits to the reserve in the short-term, and hit WWF-Hong Kong financially, but also contributed to undue notions that the natural world is somehow scary: we already have too many Hongkongers who are afraid of creatures like butterflies, and even nervous regarding trees. Given the "Conservation" in its name, the AFCD should be doing all it can to reverse such notions, and to stand up for wild birds and science.

It is good the government is conducting a review of the overall risk; I hope science and commonsense will prevail. I hope, too, the government will indeed work closely with WWF-HK on this front.[/quote]