Poultry Flu And A Request to Report
Specially Marked Waterbirds from Mongolia
Birds Korea, August 2007

While Low Pathogenic Avian Influenza (LPAI) viruses are fairly widespread in wild waterbirds, it is only in very specific conditions (e.g. similar to those found within the poultry industry), that such viruses can mutate into considerably more devastating Highly Pathogenic (HP) AI viruses, such as HPAI H5N1, threatening the lives of a wide range of species, including poultry, wild birds and, very exceptionally, people.

Repeated outbreaks of HPAI H5N1 (or Poultry Flu) have, however, led to repeated and unsubstantiated blaming of many of these outbreaks on migratory wild birds – leading in some cases to culls, and in others to a decline in support for bird conservation.

Researchers have therefore increased their efforts greatly (especially since 2005) to gather and disseminate accurate information on wild birds’ movements, and on their potential role (or lack of role) in the spread of this and other diseases. There has been an enormous growth of testing for AI viruses, often accompanied by banding and marking schemes (including a unique color-marking scheme of swans and geese in Mongolia this July: see below).

Almost all of this research has unsurprisingly failed to detect HPAI viruses in apparently healthy wild birds, and there is also increasing evidence that birds carrying AI viruses are unable to migrate long distances successfully. In one recent research program in Australia (reported at the AWSG conference in July 2007 by Dr. Phil Hansbro of Newcastle University), out of 8594 duck and shorebird samples tested, only 30 contained AI viruses, and none of these were HP. Meanwhile, a different study in Europe has concluded that even LPAI viruses can cause delays in the migration of Tundra Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii (more in http://www.plosone.org's article).

Intensified waterbird and disease monitoring of this kind has already helped challenge the myth that wild birds are responsible for transmitting the Poultry Flu virus rapidly and over long distances. Simply, as noted first by Dr. Martin Williams: “Dead Ducks Don’t Fly.”

Birds Korea therefore continues to assert that Highly Pathogenic H5N1 Poultry Flu remains a disease maintained and spread by the poultry industry and the caged bird trade. It is not a “natural” or chronic disease of wild birds. Where outbreaks occur in wild birds, they tend to be short-lived and self-limiting. Such outbreaks can be devastating to wild birds, even potentially at the population level. Persistence of the disease is therefore a major cause of conservation concern, including for the Ramsar Convention (see: http://ramsar.org/wn/w.n.avian_flu_aviemore.htm).

In light of this, Birds Korea would like to encourage all birders in the region to keep an eye out for specially marked Mongolian waterbirds as described below.

We would like to thank you in advance for passing on any reports of such birds directly to Dr. Martin Gilbert (mgilbert@wcs.org), copied also to <Birds Korea>

Colour marking of swans and geese in northern Mongolia

Dr. Martin Gilbert (mgilbert@wcs.org), Field Veterinarian – Asia, Wildlife Conservation Society.

Received August 6th, 2007.

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) is pleased to announce the successful capture and marking of several waterbird species while sampling for avian influenza in wild waterbirds in Mongolia during July 2007. During the course of fieldwork this summer, a sub-sample of 30 Whooper Swans Cygnus cygnus, 50 Bar-headed Geese Anser indicus and 21 Bean Geese Anser fabalis have been fitted with coloured neck collars in Hovsgol aimag (province) in northern Mongolia. Details of collars fitted are given below, and are illustrated in the attached photographs.

  1. 30 Whooper Swans fitted with red collars with white lettering (A01 to A30);

  2. 50 Bar-headed Geese fitted with yellow collars with black lettering (A0 to A9, B0 to B9, C0 to C9, D0 to D9 and E0 to E9);

  3. 21 Bean Geese fitted with yellow collars with black lettering (P51 to P71), also fitted with numbered metal leg rings, with bands on right leg indicating females, and left leg indicating males (based on cloacal sexing). All Bean Goose collars were supplied by our collaborator Thomas Heinicke.i

News of re-sightings and the details of the rest of our work will be posted on the GAINS website, www.gains.org.

Please also forward this message to others working in the region who may be able to contribute re-sightings.

This work has been carried out as part of the USAID-supported Global Avian Influenza Network for Surveillance (GAINS). The primary objectives of GAINS are to expand operational field capabilities, improve the understanding of viral strains and transmission of all strains of influenza viruses in wild birds, and to disseminate information to all levels of governments, international organizations, the private sector and the general public. Through this work the WCS seeks to contribute to our understanding of migratory movements, distribution and population status of wild birds.

Shorebird marking in northern and central Mongolia

Fieldwork is on-going, and in addition to the above announcement, the GAINS team in Mongolia will also be fitting coloured leg flags to shorebirds on southward migration during the next few weeks. Capture and marking of several species is anticipated including Ruff Philomachus pugnax, Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper Calidris acuminata, Red-necked Stint Calidris ruficollis, with other species marked depending on availability of supplies. These birds will be fitted with leg flags coloured Blue over Green on the right leg. As with the swans and geese, please report any re-sightings to Martin Gilbert (copied please to Birds Korea) at the e-mail addresses above. The material for these leg flags has been obtained through the kind assistance of Clive Minton and the Austalasian Wader Studies Group.

Dr. Martin Gilbert (mgilbert@wcs.org),

Wildlife Conservation Society.