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Operation planned to stem bird disease outbreak

Media release from Auckland/Waikato Fish & Game

Operation planned to stem bird disease outbreak

Fish & Game believes the disease that has claimed a large number of birds in the vicinity of the Piako River outlet into the Firth of Thames is most likely to be an outbreak of avian botulism.

Auckland Waikato Fish & Game southern gamebird manager David Klee says tests conducted by MAF have returned negative results for the main types of exotic avian disease.

“Given the symptoms that are being exhibited we are confident that the most likely cause of the deaths is avian botulism,” Mr Klee says.

Fish & Game is coordinating an operation on Thursday (February 23) this week involving DOC and the regional council to try and limit or halt any further impact of the disease outbreak.

“It is possible to manage outbreaks of avian botulism by removing dead and dying birds and disposing of them in an appropriate manner.

“However, collecting a large number of carcases over a wide area requires a lot of manpower. That’s why we’ve rallied our game bird hunting licence holders and are calling on other volunteers to help out,” Mr Klee says.

Fish & Game officers last week scoured the area of the outbreak and located around 80 dead birds in the immediate vicinity, and observed at least another 150 exhibiting symptoms of the disease.

Gulls, black shags, grey teal, mallard ducks, grey ducks, pied stilts, white-faced herons and royal spoonbills are some of the species so far claimed by the disease.

Mr Klee says it is impossible to accurately establish how many birds have died because the site is subject to large tidal movements which may have washed dead or dying birds out into the Firth of Thames, beyond the range of Fish & Game’s monitoring.

“We have received reports of birds washing up along the Thames coast and fishermen have reported seeing carcases out at sea.”
Key facts:
What is avian botulism?
It is a serious neuromuscular illness caused by a toxin produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. Spores can lie dormant for many years in soil and other substrates until favourable environmental conditions leads to an outbreak. It has the potential to kill large numbers of waterfowl.
Is an outbreak common?
Avian botulism outbreaks often occur at wastewater treatment plant sites as these areas provide the perfect conditions for the bacterium which produces the toxin. Outbreaks typically coincide with periods of hot, dry and calm weather from December to March but can occur outside this period.
Is it a threat to humans?
No. Avian botulism is different to the strain of botulism that affects humans.

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