Birds unlikely to import virus

By REN LANZONrlanzon@gladstoneobserver.com.au

GLADSTONE'S wetland areas and its industrial sites are a magnet for migratory birds.

But the risk of them bringing bird flu into the country is small, according to an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sea bird expert.

Although there is no evidence that avian flu has mutated into a human form, scientists fear it could cross the species barrier.

There is also the concern migratory birds could introduce the deadly H5N1 strain to Australia.

However principal conservation officer with the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service in Rockhampton Paul O'Neill said this was unlikely.

'There has been no evidence to my knowledge that any of the birds that come to Australia have carried the Northern Hemisphere viruses into this country,' he said.

He said scientists would continue to keep an eye on the situation and to be ready to take action if the disease should spread onto our shores.

Mr O'Neill said most of the birds that visited Queensland wetlands were from the Russian Steppes or from Siberia. "But many of them, particularly the smaller birds, stop over at many Asian countries to rest and feed before proceeding to Australia,' he said.

He said outbreaks of bird diseases in Australia have so far been of a different sub-type to the flu that was causing much concern throughout the world.

Gladstone's Waterwatch coordinator Anna Churchill said many migratory birds could be seen in this region during the warmer months in wetlands, mudflats and also industrial sites which provided the open country preferred by the birds.

'Industrial areas provide important habitats for the migratory birds ? sometimes these industrial sites replace the natural habitat that has been destroyed during development,' Ms Hitchcock said.

She said the sighting of isolated bird deaths could be expected, but any large number of deaths should be reported immediately.



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