Martin W

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

    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.

    HK experts cite “prayer bird” concerns over H5N1
    The (Hong Kong) Standard has a related item, inc:

    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.

    Ban on wild bird release, smuggler watch sought

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