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Prepare for arrival of bird flu, says agriculture department

Black browed albatross and rockhopper penguins on Saunders Island

The disease is more likely to arrive via a sick bird but biosecurity measures have increased.

Speaking to Falklands Radio this week senior vet Zoe Fowler explained there has been “no high index of suspicion of avian influenza in poultry or wild animals at this time in the Falkland Islands.”

However, as summer approaches so do migratory birds and tens of thousands of tourists.

“It’s our job to ensure it doesn’t come in via preventable means,” said Mrs Fowler.

“We’re making people walk over foot baths and dip their boots so if they’ve been to other wildlife areas it’s a less likely route of entry but it’s the one we have the most control over.”

When asked about the impact on the tourism industry Mrs Fowler said:

“We don’t know what bird flu will look like in the Falklands. We know in the southern hemisphere and in South America there have been devastating losses of some species, including sea lions.

We can assume bird flu will cause devastating losses to some avian species, and possibly marine animals, in the Falklands. That’s why, if and when it gets here, we will take a really precautionary approach to control and areas will be closed for a period of time.”

Stopping people contracting bird flu and ensuring the birds that do survive are kept stress free are other reasons access to affected areas will be restricted.

Gentoo penguin colony at New Haven

Domestic poultry owners are also asked to be aware of biosecurity and avoid walking in wild bird areas in the same boots used to feed hens in.

If bird flu is diagnosed around Stanley measures will have to be introduced to keep poultry safe with Mrs Fowler adding:

“I really need people to start thinking about what they’ll do now. Do you have a peat shed you can keep them in? Can you add a hard roof on your run… so wild bird faeces can’t drop in?”

Reports of dead or ill looking birds should be made to the veterinary department.

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