Captive birds burned in Indonesian H5N1 areas

letter in Jakarta Post: h

Avian flu and inhumane burning In recent days, the Indonesian Agriculture Ministry has instituted a "sweep" policy of culling all birds within a certain radius of cases of avian influenza in chickens in local communities. Sadly, they have mixed all birds in this policy, which apparently includes some of Indonesia's avian treasures -- such as endangered parrots, cockatoos and lories -- along with chickens, other fowl and pet birds. After confiscation these birds are burned alive. This approach seems misguided and inhumane for birds and people alike for multiple reasons:

First, it is inconsistent with scientific knowledge. Not a single well-documented case exists in modern world history of a large parrot contracting the deadly H5N1 strain of avian influenza. If Indonesian officials know of such a case, they should share it in the scientific literature.

Second, it is inconsistent with a scientific approach in which simple laboratory testing during in-house quarantine of the birds could identify the presence or absence of bird flu and spare the lives of many of these rare and endangered creatures. In addition, by not testing these birds, a valuable opportunity is lost to expand our knowledge about the epizootiology (the factors determining the spread among animals) of this disease.

Third, it is inconsistent even with the approach used in the largest zoo in Indonesia. When avian influenza struck Ragunan Zoo in Jakarta, parrots and cockatoos were spared unless they were proven to have the disease. Fourth, it is inconsistent with principles which are fair to the people involved. For example, reports are surfacing of citizens being offered as little as Rp 10,000 (slightly over US$1) as "reimbursement" for seizing a Palm cockatoo (which is a protected species nationally and internationally and may sell for up to $25,000 overseas). This is less even than trappers receive for illegally collecting these birds in the wild. There are also reports of bribes allegedly going to the untrained "inspectors" whose job it is to seize the birds -- in return for them turning a blind eye to the presence of expensive or rare birds in the homes. Fifth, this policy is inconsistent with any policy of the current government claiming to support conservation of Indonesia's vanishing species, since it sends a message to Indonesia's people that these birds are disposable and not worthy of the efforts to save them.

The unnecessary culling of such birds also makes a mockery out of antismuggling efforts. Last, but deeply disturbing, it is inconsistent with humane principles of veterinary action. These birds are intelligent and are capable of suffering. To burn a parrot or cockatoo alive without anesthetic is inhumane. Preventing a pandemic of avian influenza requires some severe measures. However, a rational approach would seem to be a war on bird flu, not a war on all birds. STEWART METZ Seattle, U.S.

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