New task force set up to tackle spoonbill deaths

GREEN INITIATIVE: Council of Agriculture officials said yesterday that a national task force was needed to improve ecological conservation


Fri, Dec 27, 2002 - Page 4

The Council of Agriculture (COA) yesterday established a national task force, which will seek international assistance and strengthen domestic ecological conservation, to tackle the epidemic of botulism that has killed 66 rare black-faced spoonbills.

COA Chairman Lee Chin-lung (李金龍) was urged yesterday by legislators, conservationists, bird watchers and environmentalists to tackle more efficiently the recent deaths of the endangered birds, which winter at the Chiku Lagoon in Tainan County, every October to April.

At a closed-door meeting held at the COA yesterday, DPP Legislator Eugene Jao (趙永清) said a national-level task force was necessary because the possibility of receiving international assistance relied on the government's active involvement.

It is estimated the global population of the black-faced spoonbill does not exceed 1,000. According to Taiwanese bird watchers, 705 black-faced spoonbills have already been observed this winter in Taiwan. As of Dec. 24, however, 66 of them had died from C. botulinum poisoning.

Local authorities have asked for the COA's help because the lack of anti-C. botulinum serum resulted in a delay in rescuing sick spoonbills.

The COA, however, has yet to solved serum shortage.

Dismayed by the COA's limited efforts, Jao contacted Japanese experts at Japan's National Institute of Infectious Diseases and received a positive response.

"They are waiting for an official invitation from the government," Jao said.

According to Yang Jiao-yen (楊嬌豔), assistant to Jao, Motohide Takahashi (高橋原秀), a specialist at the institute, would like to offer related technologies.

In addition, Shunji Kozaki (小崎俊司), a veterinary professor of Osaka Prefecture University, and Takeda Masato (竹田正人) -- who has dealt with recent botulism cases in birds in Japan -- would like to offer their experience to Taiwan.

COA officials said yesterday they would contact the Japanese experts soon.

Although the Tainan County Government has called on volunteers to pick up dead fish and animals and dismantle oyster racks in an area covering 2,000 hectares since Dec. 22, the real factors that have been causing the environmental deterioration in the area that fueled the botulism outbreak remain uncertain.

Legislators had asked the COA to map the area in question and remove all the dead fish and animal corpses.

Legislators said that the COA should ask for help from the military or demand financial assistance from the Council of Labor Affairs for hiring workers for the temporary job.

At the meeting, ecological experts urged the COA to set up a standard operating procedure (SOP) for rescuing endangered species in Taiwan because the recent deaths of the black-faced spoonbills exposed the government's lack of preparation to deal with such an outbreak.

"In addition to environmental monitoring, the SOP should be able to offer guidelines regarding epidemic survey, treatment and control," said Charles Cheng (程建中), president of the Wild Bird Federation of Taiwan.

Chiau Wen-Yan (邱文彥), president of Wetlands Taiwan, said that he'd suggested that the agriculture council rezone the ecological reserve.

"The government should have let some fish farms near the lagoon close in winter and provide buffering zones to ensure sources of food for the endangered bird," Chiau said.