Great white pelicans, listed as vulnerable in the Western Cape, are colonial breeders, currently only breeding on Dassen Island. Picture: Supplied
Great white pelicans, listed as vulnerable in the Western Cape, are colonial breeders, currently only breeding on Dassen Island. Picture: Supplied

Concern over great white pelican populations amid avian flu outbreak

By Staff Reporter Time of article published Jul 7, 2021

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Cape Town - There is concern over the impact of H5N1 avian flu strain that has been detected and the impact that it could have on the great white pelicans population in the Western Cape.

CapeNature and a number of other 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 the 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 impact had not been as severe as that 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 flu.

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 and head twitches.

Respiratory signs can include foam around the mouth, fluid running from the nostrils or mouth, difficulty breathing or sticky mucous in the mouth.

Affected birds can also have bright green diarrhoea. In the case of African penguins, they may be found swimming in circles.

This strain of avian flu poses a low risk to humans, but people can transport the virus on their hands and clothes, and therefore people should be cautious when handling sick and dead birds.

CapeNature said that it 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,” said Dr Razeena Omar, CEO of CapeNature.

HPAI is a controlled disease, and reporting it 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 contacts:

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.

Cape Argus

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