Waterbird culls and draining of wetlands could worsen spread of Avian Influenza
BirdLife International today warned that hasty responses to Avian Influenza based on incomplete or unsound data could do great damage to birds and other biodiversity, while actually raising the risk to people and to the economically important poultry industry.
In particular, BirdLife International strongly opposes any suggestion that wild birds should be culled in an attempt to control the spread of the disease, on grounds of practicality and effectiveness, as well as conservation. Any such attempts could spread the virus more widely, as survivors disperse to new places, and healthy birds become stressed and more prone to infection.
The World Health Organisation, Food and Agriculture Organisation and OIE (the World Organisation for Animal Health) agree that control of avian influenza in wild birds by culling is not feasible, and should not be attempted.
Similarly, attempts to drain wetlands would not only be disastrous for birds and other biodiversity, but would also be counterproductive, for the same reasons that culling is more likely to spread the Avian Influenza virus than control it. Birds will seek alternative staging places, and waterfowl forced to fly further and endure more crowded conditions along their migration route will become stressed and exhausted, and more prone to infection.
Apart from their extremely high conservation value, wetlands provide vital ecosystem services like flood control, water purification and nutrient recycling. The livelihoods of many communities, and a substantial though often unrecognised part of national economies, depend on wetlands.
Based on the most complete available evidence from recent outbreaks of H5N1, BirdLife asserts that the most efficient control techniques involve improved biosecurity, to reduce the likelihood of contact between poultry and wild birds or infected water sources, and restrictions on movements of domestic poultry and the trade in wild-caught birds.
BirdLife International’s Director of Science, Dr Leon Bennun, stressed the importance of informed and balanced judgement in responses to the threat of avian influenza, and in the public dissemination of information about it. “It is important that discussions of the issues relating to avian influenza should differentiate between the real problems caused by the spread of the disease within bird populations, especially within the poultry industry, and the theoretical risks of a human pandemic.”