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Bird-watching safe despite AI virus threat

Local government units with wetlands where migratory birds flock, like in Negros Occidental, can continue promoting bird-watching even with the reported poultry-to-human transmission of an avian influenza virus strain in Russia* PENRO photo

Local government units with wetlands where migratory birds flock can continue promoting bird-watching even with the reported poultry-to-human transmission of the H5N8 avian influenza (AI) virus strain in Russia.

There is a slim chance for migratory birds to bring H5N8 to the Philippines, Biodiversity Management Bureau Wildlife Rescue Center (WRC) in charge, Dr. Glenn Maguad, said.

“Migratory birds infected with H5N8 will most likely already die and fall into the sea while in flight heading to our country,” he said yesterday.

He said generally, only the very healthy migratory birds survive the long flight from their places of origin and make it to the country.

That means bird-watching is still a safe activity, he noted.

Maguad, however, warned that what we should watch out for is the possible entry of wildlife and poultry smuggled into the Philippines.

He said such contraband items do not undergo required checking and could be possible carriers of the H5N8 virus.

Candaba Swamp in Pampanga is among the destinations of migratory birds traveling along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway (EAAF), a route connecting northeast Asia to southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand.

EAAF is one of several globally recognized routes that migratory birds use annually.

According to BirdLife International, a worldwide partnership of bird conservation organizations, over 50 million migratory waterbirds use the EAAF.

Maguad said LGUs promoting bird-watching must ensure that people always observe birds from a distance.

“The first rule in bird-watching is for people not to go near birds,” he said.

Direct contact with infected birds is a means of transmitting AI viruses, WRC veterinarian, Dr. Rona Sinaon, said.

She said such viruses have the chance to mutate and adapt if transmitted. “There are many AI viruses since these mutate easily and have high adaptability,” she added.*PNA

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