Mon, Nov 07, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Moderation needed in fight versus avian flu

By Kurtis Pei and Young Ching-hsiang 裴家騏、楊晴翔

A few days ago, the Council of Agriculture's Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine issued a statement saying that on Oct. 14, the Coast Guard Administration of Taiwan seized several cages of birds that had been smuggled from China.

Out of these seized birds, a total of 1,037 -- from 19 different species -- tested positive for the deadly H5N1 avian flu virus.

All the smuggled birds were destroyed immediately after the laboratory tests, as the bureau believed that it was necessary to take such precautions in preventing the virus from entering Taiwan.

With the nightmare of a possible outbreak of avian flu caused by wild birds looming, many Taiwanese are in favor of the government's scorched earth policy, which would rather kill 100 birds than allow a single H5N1-infected bird to go free.

However, as environmental activists, we believe that this kind of policy is totally inappropriate.

This is especially true in the case of endangered species. We advocate that the government should carry out any bird flu prevention measures in a restrained fashion, as this is the only way that uninfected endangered birds can be saved from unnecessary slaughter.

Our suggestion for front-line law enforcement workers is: when smuggled birds are found, they should first check whether the birds are listed as endangered species.

If so, the birds should be placed in an isolation ward rather than designated for immediate extermination.

If law enforcement authorities have difficulty in distinguishing which birds are endangered species, we suggest that they take digital photographs of the birds and then send the photographs to the relevant academic institutions for identification.

The government can easily designate a small section of the facilities currently used for inspecting and quarantining imported animals for endangered bird species only.

The whole planet is on guard against avian flu, but these operations cannot be carried out without consideration for the lives of endangered species, especially when humans are still capable of protecting them.

There are rumors circulating that some are calling for a mass slaughter of the migratory birds that usually spend winter in Taiwan.

If such reports are true, a catastrophic slaughter of these birds is inevitable.

In fact, relevant disease control institutions have adopted precautionary measures to prevent and control a possible outbreak of avian flu by monitoring migratory and wild birds in Taiwan on an on-going basis. As of today, Taiwan remains virus-free.

We hope that the government can face up to a possible bird flu epidemic in a rational fashion, and tackle any subsequent outbreaks in a professional manner.

Kurtis Pei is a professor and Young Ching-hsiang is a graduate student at the Institute of Wildlife Conservation at National Pingtung University.


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