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Bird sanctuaries to be monitored

Vani Doraisamy

Precautions being taken in the wake of bird flu panic in East Asia

CHENNAI: Faced with the possibility of a deadly bird flu virus, which has been causing panic in East Asia over the last two months, spreading to India through migratory birds, the Departments of Environment and Forests and Animal Husbandry will monitor 50 bird sanctuaries in the country.

The birds that will be closely watched are waterfowls such as bar-headed geese (which have died in large numbers in China's Qinghai province and are likely to start migrating next month across the Himalayas to Burma, India and Pakistan), brown-headed and black-headed gulls and great cormorants, which are known to be infected with the A/H5N1 virus. The virus spreads to humans through poultry that comes into contact with infected wild birds.

Top officials from the departments met on Monday and formulated a plan for continuous monitoring.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation has advised against killing of wild birds and recommended surveillance and vaccination of poultry in high-risk areas.

Blood samples to be taken

"We have asked all State Animal Husbandry departments to take blood samples from poultries in the vicinity of bird sanctuaries and, where possible, from migratory birds. Sanctuary-wise monitoring will be done continuously and samples will be sent to the high-security Animal Disease Laboratory in Bhopal. This in addition to our regular monitoring," P.M.A Hakeem, Union Animal Husbandry Secretary, told The Hindu over phone from New Delhi.

"We will monitor the migratory patterns of the birds," a senior wildlife official said.

In Tamil Nadu, the spotlight will be on sanctuaries in Vedanthangal and Karikili in Kancheepuram, Vettangudi in Sivaganga, Pulicat in Tiruvallur, Kanchirangulam and Chitrangudi in Ramanathapuram, Udayamarthandapuram and Vaduvur in Thiruvarur, Point Calimere in Vedaranyam and Kunthangulam in Tirunelveli.

The bar-headed goose is known to visit Kunthangulam and coastal south Tamil Nadu. The brown and black-headed gulls and cormorants are frequent visitors to avian hotspots in the State, including the Adyar estuary in Chennai.

Naturalists say there may be no need for panic as there is no proof that the birds come in from China.

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