Bird conservationists too muted re h5n1 flu

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    Martin W
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    Email from Nial Moores:

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    Dear all, Greetings from South Korea. Based on mails posted on Pro-Med from disease specialists asking if people out there knew about bird migration in Asia (and the subsequent discussion), I really felt the need to echo Martin’s sentiments. Despite all of the ongoing and excellent behind-the-scenes work, the bird conservation community in general is still, publicly at least, very muted about "Bird Flu" (what might be better called Poultry Flu if Martin’s Frakenflu is not taken up widely?), especially when compared to those like Niman daily grabbing the headlines. At present, there really is very little apparent information on the internet that explains how bird migrations do not match the outbreaks (in timing or distribution); very little information on the biological cycle and distribution of the Bar-headed Goose (one of the most ‘favored vectors’); very little observation by bird migration specialists on how the disease could also/much more likely be being spread by desparate farmers wanting to avoid culls of their poultry…there is also very little/next to nothing easilly found on how tests are still showing migratory birds as testing negative (in the past week met with Adrian Riegen who said that they were testing for the virus but had not found it yet in NZ, and heard from a JAWAN member in Japan, saying tests there had also been turning up negative results etc). Even major birdwatcher websites (like Surfbirds for example, at: http://www.surfbirds.com) seem unable to report on the position of conservation groups on the outbreaks (they do, however, often link to latest press releases from major organisations). Instead, doing a site search there for "avian flu" shows it is an item only raised in their forum, with the websearch page carrying the two following ads at the bottom of the page: ‘The 1918 flu killed 40-100 million people. How? Could it happen?" and "Get Info on : Surviving the Flu…etc" In summary, honest and accurate information for birders to use in defence of wild birds (and to increase the heat on the poultry industry, in many cases the proven source of the outbreaks) is not easily available. As further evidence of that, we received an email last week from a Danish bander asking our advice, saying that much debate was now ongoing in Denmark on whether it is still safe to carry on bird banding, presumably esp. of Asian birds (it was tempting to suggest that its "probably safe as long as no-one drinks the bird’s blood"…). It seems that IF the broader bird conservation community (whoever that comprises?) made both a loud, immediate response as well as maintaining long-term research and monitoring, that millions of birdwatchers would be able to better join in the public discussion, and would be in a better position to criticise media for reporting the outbreaks irresponsibly… A main and increasingly urgent concern along these lines that we have here in Korea is: What would happen, in practice, if some Baikal Teal start dying in Seosan or Gunsan this autumn? 10 000 Baikal Teal died in Seosan from avian cholera 5 years ago; many poultry a couple of years back…How would local people respond now, if they found even 10 sick ducks? How would the media respond? How would the government HAVE to respond? It really seems unlikely that government officials would wait several days for tests to be processed; that they would go through the normal process of contacting through the Ministry of Environment etc to gather information on how best to deal with the problem. Not now that this disease of poultry is being identified not only with migratory birds but also with the next great human disease pandemic… The pressure would be on initiating a cull, immediately; and much less on conserving what a journalist in the Wall Street Journal described on August 8th as an "intercontinental ballistic missile" (i.e a migratory waterbird). How possibly to get ahead of both the outbreaks and the rising hysteria? As a small group with two websites, Birds Korea will, like Martin, be doing what we can to post such information up (first in English and later Korean), along with some commentaries, and also a set of position statements (added below). We will of course also be linking to Martin’s information, and would dearly love to be able to link to online maps on distribution of waterbirds, and to position statements from other larger and much more influential organisations if such statements had been made… Thank you all very much for taking the time to read this. With very best wishes, Nial Birds Korea Nial Moores Birds Korea: The national and international network dedicated to the conservation of birds and their habitats. http://www.birdskorea.org

     

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