Cape Town - South African National Parks (SANParks) have issued an alert that a bird flu outbreak has been confirmed by state veterinary services at the Boulders Beach penguin colony in Cape Town.
Management reiterates that the virus is of low risk to humans, but can be fatal to birds and has been detected in other wild birds like swift, sandwich and common terns and gannets besides the penguins.
At the moment one tern and two penguins have tested positive for the H5N8 strain.
Measures have been put in place to contain the outbreak and stop it from spreading to other populations.
This includes the following precautions:
- Although the Boulders Beach boardwalk remains open to visitors, no one may get up close to the main breeding colony.
- All staff will only walk off boardwalks when absolutely necessary and will sterilise their SANParks-issued gumboots afterwards.
- Monitoring routes used for moult and nest counts have been reviewed to ensure that staff and penguin monitors do not walk through the main breeding colony.
- Boulders Beach visitors should change their shoes and clothes if they will be visiting other seabird colonies or poultry farms to prevent the spread of the disease.
SANParks is working closely with Western Cape Veterinary Services, CapeNature, the Department of Environmental Affairs, City of Cape Town, SANCCOB and other seabird rehabilitation centres and private veterinarians to ensure the virus does not spread and to monitor the situation.
Bird flu, also known as avian influenza, can spread very easily through most forms of contact, including through faecal contamination. Currently, there is no treatment, but culling and habitat destruction of wild birds is not the way to control the virus, according to the Western Cape Province Government.
Humans are not affected by the virus, but unfortunately they can spread it between bird populations.