Avian influenza 2021

Posted on the 14th December 2021

(This article first appeared in the BirdLife South Africa e-Newsletter: December 2021 – Ed.)

Over the course of 2021 an outbreak of a highly contagious and pathogenic strain (HPAI, H5N1) of avian influenza has severely affected South Africa’s seabirds, especially the Cape Cormorant. CapeNature reported that by 1 October 2021 18 388 seabird fatalities due to the virus had been recorded in the Western Cape, of which 17 926 were Cape Cormorants. The area most affected is Dyer Island, where 12 203 dead birds have been reported to date.

The virus was first detected in May in the Western Cape, mostly in gulls. The first Cape Cormorants were diagnosed with it in mid-September and positive cases exploded exponentially across the province over the following weeks, peaking at approximately 700 new cases per day.

Unfortunately there is no curative or preventative treatment for this virus, but the safe removal of carcasses and sick birds, among other measures, can mitigate its impact. However, to prevent the spread of the disease, Anton Bredell (the Minister of Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning) has urged the public to avoid areas where seabirds may congregate and not to collect sick or dead birds. This means that people must not attempt to assist or transport sick birds, but rather alert local conservation authorities of any carcasses or birds displaying symptoms so that the case can be properly managed. Symptoms may range from tame behaviour or weakness to muscle twitches and seizures.

It has been estimated that the 2021 outbreak of avian influenza has led to the loss of 15% of the Cape Cormorant population, a massive blow to this Endangered seabird species. BirdLife South Africa, the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, CapeNature, SANParks, West Coast District Municipality, Bergrivier Local Municipality, the Robben Island Museum, Western Cape Veterinary Services, Dyer Island Conservation Trust, the Owl Orphanage St. Helena Bay, Dwarskersbos Snake Rescue and local veterinarians are all collaborating to monitor and manage the situation.

For contact details and more information:…/BirdLife-South-Africa……/veterinary-services-0…



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