There’s even a mention of this website in the news item; though not quite correct – the info was first from a Japanese researcher, posting to a newsgroup re poultry flu and conservation. I pasted some posts into this thread; Richard Thomas of Birdlife International – who started the newsgroup – sent more messages to the group, which I added as well.
Still, good to see this story; and check out the quote from Juan Lubroth of FAO!
The hypothesis that migratory birds are responsible for spreading
avian flu over long distances has taken another knock. Last year, an
outbreak of the deadly H5N1 strain in thousands of migratory birds at
Qinghai Lake in western China provided what seemed the first firm
evidence for the idea. Because the lake is so remote, experts assumed
infected birds had flown up from southern China.
But it has now emerged that, since 2003, one of the key migratory
species affected, the bar-headed goose, has been artificially reared
near the lake. The breeding farms — part of an experimental
programme to both domesticate the birds and release them to
repopulate wild stocks — raise the possibility that farmed birds
were the source of the outbreak.
Roy Wadia, a World Health Organization (WHO) spokesman in Beijing,
agrees that, if confirmed, the finding is “important”, as changing
the breeding practice might help control the infection.
Yi Guan, a virologist at the University of Hong Kong, co-authored a
Nature paper last July that suggested migrating birds caused the
outbreak (see Nature 436, 191?192; 2005). Guan says he had heard
rumours of the programme when he submitted his paper, but couldn’t
There is no proof that China’s breeding programme caused the Qinghai
outbreak, but it does raise questions, he says. “The cultivation of
bar-headed geese increases the chance for these birds to mix with
infected domestic poultry.”
Ironically, the breeding programme was revealed by Chinese press
agencies reporting on the government’s efforts to boost agriculture
and the environment in the region ahead of the opening of the
Qinghai-Tibet railway in July; the railway is expected to promote
tourism and economic growth.
Richard Thomas of BirdLife International in Cambridge, UK, spotted
the press cuttings, and posted English translations to a blog
(https://www.drmartinwilliams.com). Whether farmed migrant birds
caused the outbreak or not, it’s a “cautionary tale”, says Ken
Shortridge, a veteran avian-flu researcher in China. He argues that
such a programme does not sufficiently take into account the threat
The idea that migrating birds didn’t carry the virus to Qinghai after
all would fit with other recent evidence. Juan Lubroth, a senior
animal-health officer at the UN Food and Agricultural Organization
(FAO), says he is now sceptical that migrants can carry the virus
over long distances. For example, the current spring migration from
Africa to Europe is almost over, with no sign of outbreaks. The FAO
has also checked 20,000 wild birds in Africa and found no H5N1.