Birds being killed off in their thousands by bird flu, leaving many people jobless

2017-09-07 16:31
PHOTO: Gallo Images/ Getty Images

PHOTO: Gallo Images/ Getty Images

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Ostrich and poultry farms have suffered huge losses in the past week after a deadly outbreak of bird flu.

Not only that, but the dreaded Newcastle disease has also reared its head – and it’s not only affecting chickens. Alan Winde, Western Cape Minister of Agricultural Opportunities, spoke to Kieno Kammies on Thursday on the radio station Cape talk. Winde said he didn’t wish to “spread wide-scale panic” but that the poultry industry is faced with enormous risks.

Dr Deon de Beer – who started the Klapmuts Bird Clinic and is one of only two veterinarians in the country specialising in avian health – says he’d warned the provincial agricultural department as early as last year about an outbreak of bird flu. He told them then that it was a new strain of bird flu never before seen in South Africa.

De Beer, who works mainly with parrots and other small birds and has no interests in the poultry industry, says he’d written to the department on 7 March last year to warn them of the danger.

“I told them I was seeing something strange happening in the industry,” De Beer says. According to him the department informed him that his information was “very interesting”, but suggested he investigate it further on his own – and with his own money.

“At the beginning of this year we identified it as a new strain of the virus – after we’d invested hundreds of thousands of rands for our own research.”

He goes on to describe this new strain as one of the most challenging, dangerous and inexplicable viruses in that viral group that’s now been diagnosed for the first time worldwide.

De Beer also warns that this avian flu virus isn’t the only virus that’s currently targeting birds in the Western Cape. He also warns against Newcastle disease. He says bird types that were never affected by Newcastle disease before are now falling victim to it for the first time in South Africa. There have been cases in Worcester and Somerset West where the virus has been found in pigeons and peacocks. It’s likely that parrots will also be affected by it. >>Listen to the interview here [nog sure if it’s only in Afrikaans? – Liz]

The high cost of bird flu

Leon Groeneveld’s once prosperous The Duck Farm, in Joostenbergvlakte near Cape Town, is in ruins. In the course of a few days the virus claimed the lives of 10 917 ducks and another 24 580 had to be killed. All activities on the farm – including the deli – came to a halt and almost 100 people have now lost their jobs. Groeneveld reckons it could take many months before the farm will be up and running again. In the meantime, damages amount to millions of rand.

Winde has described what happened to The Duck Farm as an “absolute crisis”, adding that’s he’s concerned about the entire industry.

Bird flu in the Western Cape

In early August the Western Cape department of agriculture put two ostrich farms near Heidelberg with a combined 1 000 ostriches under quarantine. Farms in a 3 km radius were also quarantined and no heat-treated ostrich meat within a 10 km radius was allowed to be exported.

Piet Klein, head of the South African Ostrich Business Chambers, says no fresh [bird] meat can be exported – and this affects all farmers in the country and the poultry industry. “The rest of the country can still export heat-treated ostrich meat to mainly the European Union.”

The threat of a bird flu epidemic in the Western Cape was first investigated about a month ago, following 13 incidents where poultry farms in Mpumalanga and Gauteng were hit by the virus.

What is Newcastle disease?

The disease, which is thought to have first reared its head in 1898 in Scotland, was first officially diagnosed in South Africa in 1945 after large-scale poultry deaths in (then) Natal.

In the period from 1970 to 1972 the disease took on epidemic proportions countrywide. The last outbreak of the disease in SA was in August 2013 in Lephalale, Limpopo, and Potchefstroom, North West. From there it spread to Gauteng (November 2013), KwaZulu-Natal (July 2014) and Mpumalanga (October 2014).

Newcastle disease and humans

The disease can be contracted by people but isn’t deadly. Symptoms can range from mild conjunctivitis to flu-like symptoms.


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