06 July 2021
CapeNature addresses recent H5N1 avian influenza outbreak
CapeNature and anumber of conservation organisations, including the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) are monitoring and taking action to effectively respond to the H5N1 strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) that is currently affecting birds in South Africa.
The H5N1 strain has been detected in sick and dead wild birds, but to date the impacts have not been as severe as those of the 2017/18 H5N8 strain when a large number of wild birds succumbed to this virus. There is concern about the possible impact it may have on the Great White Pelican population in the Western Cape. There are only an estimated 370 breeding pairs residing in the province, and already 40 out of a group of 100 birds have succumbed to the virus. Great White Pelicans, listed as vulnerable in the Western Cape, are colonial breeders, currently only breeding on Dassen Island.
Affected birds will appear to be weak and may display neurological signs such as tremors, seizures, loss of balance or head twitches. Respiratory signs will include foam around the mouth, fluid running from the nostrils or mouth, difficulty breathing or sticky mucous in the mouth. Affected birds will also have bright green diarrhoea. In the case of African Penguins, they may be found swimming in circles.
Fortunately, this strain of avian influenza poses a low risk to humans, but people can transport the virus on their hands and clothes and therefore should be cautious when handling sick and dead birds. CapeNature will continue to work in close collaboration with State Veterinary Services, and other conservation partners, to monitor and combat the spread of the virus.
“I hope that with continued collaboration, open communication and swift responses, we can continue to tackle this disease effectively. We will endeavour to keep everyone informed of any changes as we become aware of them”, added CEO of CapeNature, Dr Razeena Omar.
HPAI is a controlled disease, and reporting is therefore required by law. SANCCOB is conducting wild seabird disease surveillance work, and thus should also be informed of any potentially infected seabirds. Members of the public can report sick seabirds, or an unusual number of dead birds, to CapeNature via the following locations:
Sick seabirds can also be reported to SANCCOB on 021 557 6155 (office hours) and 078 638 3731 (after hours) as well as to State Veterinarians, whose contact details can be accessed here.
CapeNature is a public institution mandated to promote and ensure biodiversity conservation within the Western Cape. The entity manages most of the mountain catchments and reserves that supply ecosystem services to the citizens of the Western Cape. This requires good scientific data, a sound understanding of fynbos ecology and commitment to the principles of integrated biodiversity management and planning. Most of this work is in remote areas out of the public eye, but has a direct bearing on the quality of life of millions of people in the province.
General Manager: Advocacy
Petro van Rhyn
071 231 7576
Resource Development Manager
021 557 6155