Potentially disastrous threat to the world's Baikal Teal: THREE new outbreaks of so-called Avian Influenza in South Korea, at Iksan, Pyongtaek, and Seosan.
At least 6000 chickens at a farm in Iksan, South Korea, died between Sunday, 19 November and Wednesday, 22 November, before the farmer alerted authorities. The Korean Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) identified the virus as Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza H5N1 (announced on 25 November). A cull has been conducted of all chickens and other poultry, along with two dogs, within 500 m of this farm, and all eggs destroyed for a 3 Km circumference around the two egg-producing farms that had supplied the chicken farm in question.
The Geum River barrage, which has been hosting over 400,000 Baikal Teal Anas formosa (most of the world's population) in recent winters, is located only 5 km downstream from Iksan. To date, there is no evidence or suggestion that wild birds have been infected by this poultry outbreak, though at this stage contamination still seems possible. This is due to the length of time it took for the farmer to report the Iksan outbreak; the lack of security practiced by people visiting the area (with online images showing some reporters at the site dressed in ordinary clothing: note this virus can easily be transported on shoes, vehicle wheels and probably in water), and the failure of the first quarantine procedure; and finally, the practice locally of keeping some birds in cages, near to the Geum River â€“ with some of these (e.g. Cinereous Vultures) even fed raw chicken, no doubt supplied by local farms.
A second outbreak of Avian Influenza was then detected at Pyongtaek, a major port and trade centre ca150 km to the north of Iksan, on 23 November, and identified by MAF as Low Pathogenic Avian Influenza. The sudden reappearance of Avian Influenza at two discrete sites, on almost the same dates after a long period with no outbreaks, seems highly suggestive of infection from a shared source (perhaps imported poultry products?).
Then, a third outbreak was reported at Seosan on 27 November. As stated by Yeonhap News, "Bird flu was found in a pair of chickens raised in South Korea's southern city of Seosan, north of Iksan where the first outbreak took place and thousands of chickens were subsequently culled, government officials said Monday. The chickens found to be infected with the deadly epidemic had been born out of eggs supplied from the Iksan poultry farm where the highly-virulent strain of bird flu was discovered last week, the provincial officials said." (Please go to: http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr
While MAF was initially responsible in its reporting and handling of the first outbreak, they have now posted a pop-up cartoon on their website, clearly insinuating wild birds are to blame (please go to: http://www.maf.go.kr). After explaining that wild birds, as well as smuggled birds and caged birds, are dangerous, a kindly cartoon farmer answers the concerns of his frightened poultry by stating that he will protect them from migrant birds! Other frames advise people not to go to areas with wild birds, as well as against going to Viet Nam and other countries with the disease!
Clearly, the Ministry feels there is no need for a warning against poor industrial practice. At least one domestic newspaper (the Chosun Ilbo) has already included the erroneous statement that the disease is usually carried by migrant birds (wild birds fairly often carry low pathogenic influenza viruses: highly pathogenic influenza viruses are extraordinarily rare in the wild).
All bird conservationists and people interested or concerned about this disease are advised to read statements from a recent United Nations meeting in China, which concluded, based on all available evidence, that "migratory birds do not play a major role in the transmission of the highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1".