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Avian flu: Shut down wild bird markets, experts say

(NEW YORK) Feb. 3, 2004 -- A group of scientists and wildlife health experts from the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) say that closing Asia's wild bird markets would reduce the spread of Avian flu. The markets place tens of thousands of wild and domestic birds in close quarters, allowing diseases to make the jump between wild animals, livestock, and ultimately humans, WCS says. The group also expressed concern that policies calling for widespread killing of birds living in the wild to prevent disease would do more harm than good.

According to WCS, which operates conservation programs in more than 15 Asian countries, wild birds are caught, usually by rural hunters, then brought together in large numbers often outside their natural range, and put in contact with other animals and people that have little immunity to diseases they might be carrying.

"The birds are caged in stressful, unnatural and often unhygienic conditions during transport and in the markets themselves where they are forced to stand beak to beak with both wild and domestic birds, and handled by humans - all providing the ideal conditions for transmission of disease," said Dr William Karesh, Director of the WCS Field Veterinary Program.

The trade in wild birds for the pet and songbird trade in Asia is vast. For example, in Bangkok's weekend market during 25 weekends in one year alone, 70,000 birds representing 276 species from Asia Australia, Africa and South America were sold. In a single market in Java, Indonesia, between half a million and 1.5 million wild birds are sold each year

"The wild bird trade in Asia is conducted on an extremely large scale, and is highly fluid," said Dr. Elizabeth Bennett, WCS's director of hunting and wildlife trade. "The one common theme is that wild birds are being caught, sold and transported in very large numbers, and that effective controls, both in terms of laws and enforcement of those laws, are currently
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Contact: Stephen Sautner
ssautner@wcs.org
718-220-3682
Wildlife Conservation Society
3-Feb-2004


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