Top Cape bird park hit as deadly avian virus spreads
The World of Birds, Africa’s largest bird park, at the foot of Table Mountain, is under quarantine after several confirmed cases of bird flu.
Swans, ducks, ibises and now even blue cranes — the national bird — have joined the growing list of infected birds, the popular tourist site revealed this week.
This follows widespread culling of millions of chickens and ducks — two million in the Western Cape alone — as the H5N8 highly pathogenic avian influenza virus takes its toll. It is a strain of bird flu not seen before in South Africa, and appears to be out of control.
“We are at the heart of the outbreak at the moment. It is a very sad and stressful time,” said World of Birds general manager Hendrik Louw.
Louw said the park remained open and urgently needed donations to help contain the outbreak, which is not harmful to humans.
He said bio-security control measures implemented after the first case was reported in the Boland town of Wellington were not enough to prevent wild birds entering the park and infecting its population.
“We could only control this at ground level and had no chance against free-flying wild birds that pose the greatest risk,” Louw said.
Staff have spent R10 000 on diagnostic tests and used nearly 1 000 litres of disinfectant in the past 10 days.
Many birds have been euthanased and others were expected to test positive, Louw said, adding that some birds were carriers and did not necessarily die.
“We are currently dealing with our blue cranes. We only took a sample out of a flock of seven [which tested positive] and now we are running tests on the remaining seven.”
World of Birds has more than 400 species of birds and other animals, and draws about 100 000 visitors annually. Louw appealed to visitors not to stay away: “If we had to close to the public we would not survive.”
The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries confirmed the crisis was the worst yet, with 62 reported outbreaks in the Western Cape, Gauteng and Mpumalanga: 18 in commercial chickens, two in commercial ducks, 12 in commercial ostrich, 16 in wild birds, eight in birds kept as a hobby and six in back-yard poultry.
Also on the list are laughing doves, sparrows, guinea fowl and finches. Experts say some species are more susceptible to the virus than others, with higher mortality.
“South Africa has never before experienced an outbreak of HPAI [highly pathogenic avian influenza] in chickens or any domestic birds other than ostriches, which makes this outbreak a very significant and serious outbreak in South Africa’s animal health history,” the department said.
The department said the virus originated in China and had been spread mainly by migrating wild waterfowl.
Gary Arnold, MD of poultry producer Astral Foods, said because H5N8 was new to South Africa it could not be compared to other outbreaks.
“Significant poultry stock has had to be destroyed in the local industry and this poses a serious threat to food security.”