United Nations Environment Program warns about ecological consequences of H5N1

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2006:

GENEVA–The United Nations Environment Program warned on
March 22, 2006 that, “Culling poultry [to control avian flu H5N1],
especially in developing nations where chicken is a key source of
protein, may put new and unacceptable pressure on a wide range of
creatures,” who may be hunted as alternate protein, “from wild pigs
to endangered great apes.”
UNEP also warned against culling wild birds and draining
wetlands to discourage congregations of waterfowl, who appear to be
victims of H5N1 more than carriers.
Now afflicting 45 nations, H5N1 has been found in 87 bird
species, including many of the most common and broadly ranging–and
carrion-eaters such as kites, crows, and buzzards, known to have
strong resistance to most pathogens.

“But in most cases, it has been a dead bird here and a dead
bird there,” observed New York Times science writer Donald G. McNeil
Jr. “While H5N1 can race through a chicken farm, killing tens of
thousands of birds in a few days, there have been very few die-offs
of wild birds. Nor have ornithologists found many infections” in
wild specimens. Swabs and fecal samples from 13,000 wild ducks in
marshes in Hong Kong and eastern China and 51,000 ducks in wet
markets around China suggested that wild ducks were probably
responsible for moving the virus to Mongolia, Russia, and Europe,”
McNeil summarized, “but they were probably infected by strains
percolating in the domestic flocks of southern China.”
“I don’t think you would have seen this spread if it wasn’t
for industrial farming,” said sustainable agriculture advocate
Devlin Kuyek, of the Spanish-based organization GRAIN. “To make
matters worse,” Kuvek told Elizabeth Piper of Reuters, “governments
are pursuing measures to force poultry indoors and further
industrialise the poultry sector. “
Thai Livestock Development Department disease control chief
Nirundorn Aungtragoolsuk, for example, announced that free-range
duck farming would be banned after April 1, 2006. The Jakarta
(Indonesia) Animal Husbandry, Fisheries, and Maritime Affairs
Agency on March 24, 2006 asked city residents to keep their birds
caged–which would contradict Islamic teaching, in a largely Islamic
“As a conservationist, I’m not concerned about H5N1 wiping
out whole populations,” Wildlife Conservation Society director of
Asia programs Colin Poole. told McNeil of the Times. “I’d say the
biggest threat [to wild birds] is Russian politicians saying people
should go to the borders and shoot migrating birds. There is plenty
of that kind of nonsense.”
About 80% of all birds and more than half of all mammals are
related to species known to have become infected, experts testified
at a mid-March UNEP Convention on Biological Diversity meeting in
Curitiba, Brazil.
Mammals in whom at least one case of H5N1 has been confirmed,
as of March 28, 2006, include (in order of discovery) Owston palm
civet, clouded leopard, domestic cat, Cynomolgus macaque, stone
marten, ferret, New Zealand white rabbit, leopard, tiger, Norway
rat, and a domestic pig, with a case suspected in a Swedish mink as
ANIMAL PEOPLE went to press. All have been isolated findings, with
no sign of mammal-to-mammal transmission. Infected cats found in
Thailand and Germany had eaten diseased poultry.
“Two dog cases are currently regarded as anecdotal,” said
International Society for Infectious Diseases moderator Arnon
Shimshony. One, reported in Thailand in October 2004, was in a
dog who survived. The other was suspected in a dead stray found in
Azerbaijan in March 2006.

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