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Second wave of bird flu in Himachal: Around 100 migratory birds found dead in Pong Dam sanctuary

Avian influenza, or bird flu, had first been confirmed among migratory water-birds at Pong in early January during an outbreak that left around 5,000 birds dead in a month.

By: Express News Service | Shimla |
April 7, 2021 1:32:39 am
Officials said that sporadic incidents of deaths of other birds have also been reported from other parts of the state, including Theog and Manali, and their samples have been sent for testing by the animal husbandry department.

Around a hundred migratory birds have died in Pong Dam Lake wildlife sanctuary in the last two weeks following a second wave of bird flu outbreak in Himachal Pradesh, wildlife officials said.

Avian influenza, or bird flu, had first been confirmed among migratory water-birds at Pong in early January during an outbreak that left around 5,000 birds dead in a month. It was contained in early February but has now resurfaced since late March beginning with the discovery of 12 bird carcasses in the sanctuary on March 25.

“The National Institute of High Security Animal Diseases (NIHSAD) in Bhopal has confirmed the presence of H5N8 avian influenza among the samples of the dead birds. This strain is different from the previous outbreak, when H5N1 had been detected among the migratory birds. But both these strains are highly pathogenic,” said Chief Wildlife Warden Archana Sharma.

Highly pathogenic subtypes of the avian influenza A virus are known to be highly contagious among birds and especially deadly for the poultry. Earlier this year, when bird flu outbreaks were reported across India, most of the states including neighbouring Haryana reported the H5N8 subtype of the virus, a strain which has not been known to infect humans.

Sharma further said, “As of Tuesday, 99 birds have been found dead at Pong during this resurgence, and like the previous outbreak, most of the victims are bar-headed geese. The dead birds also include nine greylag geese.”

She said that the outbreak has so far been confined to two adjoining forest beats and bird fatalities are higher during days of adverse weather because that is when the geese tend to flock together instead of flying out, leading to more transmission of the virus.

An international Ramsar site with an area that extends up to 220 square kilometres during the wet season, the Pong wetland becomes home to flocks of migratory waterfowl each winter when wetlands in Europe and North and Central Asia become frozen. A bird census in the sanctuary in February revealed the presence of more than one lakh migratory water birds of 51 different species at the lake, including more than 40 thousand bar-headed geese.

Sharma said that with the onset of summer, the migratory birds are now flying back to their parent wetlands and many of the birds currently present in the lake are those which have flown from Rajasthan and other parts of the country, stopping here on their northward journey.

“The sanctuary has been closed for visitors, and the bird flu action plan has been activated, which includes surveillance, testing and scientific disposal of dead birds,” she said.

Officials said that sporadic incidents of deaths of other birds have also been reported from other parts of the state, including Theog and Manali, and their samples have been sent for testing by the animal husbandry department.

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