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September 22, 2017

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COA confirms death of spoonbill not due to H5 bird flu strain

A deceased black-faced spoonbill that was sent in for sampling on Feb. 1 was confirmed to have died due to causes not related to any of the H5 bird flu strains, according to the Council of Agriculture's (COA) Animal Health Research Institute chief Tsai Hsiang-rong (蔡向榮). Tsai indicated yesterday that the endangered bird's death was due to exposure to a poisonous substance called C botulinum (C型肉毒桿菌) which can cause paralysis and severe nerve damage.

The COA's Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine (BAPHIQ) held a press conference yesterday to discuss the bird flu epidemic, in which Tsai stated that although bird flu has been dismissed as the cause of death of spoonbills, further testing must be conducted on the spoonbills' corpses and excrement in order to understand how such poisons affect wild birds.

The Animal Health Research Institute currently has two spoonbill carcasses that were collected from the Tingshang (頂山) Wetlands around Tainan City. One of the carcasses, which was the one collected on Feb. 1, showed signs of the effects of C botulinum. Tsai stated that the other bird was tested for parasites of the pancreas, intestinal worms and nematode worms and confirmed that they could possibly affect the digestive systems of the birds but not be the root causes of their deaths.

Tsai re-emphasized that the tests on the bird collected on Feb. 1 came out negative, but the follow-up will take measures such as virus isolation and inoculation tests. Hopefully the follow-up tests will confirm the cause of the bird's death was in fact C botulinum and that the presence of this toxin is not related to a sub strain of H5, Tsai said.

Taiwan Home to Two Thirds of Remaining Spoonbills

According to animal protection organizations, there are only approximately 3,000 black-faced spoonbills remaining in the world. During the winter months, approximately 2,000 of the endangered species reside in Taiwan.

Tsai claims that the test results from only one bird are not enough to infer that black-faced spoonbills are not in danger or capable of contracting bird flu. Tsai believes that for the time being everyone must assume that the wild birds are capable of contracting bird flu until a further series of test results is published. This will involve examining live spoonbills and their excrement to confirm that the birds do not die after exposure to bird flu strains.

The COA indicated that three samples of spoonbill excrement that were collected in the Tingshan Wetlands were sent in to the research institute for testing. The excrement sample results are expected to be released today or tomorrow.

COA chief Chen Bao-chi (陳保基) stated that there are many wild birds that are protected by animal watch groups. Forest Service Conservation team leader Kuan Li-hao (管立豪), who attended the COA meetings, stated that the only birds that are currently internationally protected from bird flu are ducks, geese and sandpipers (鷸科), and that black-faced spoonbills are not on the protected list.

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