Conservationists in Southeast
Asia are making the most of their avian
influenza research. Hard at work catching, examining, tagging, and
releasing thousands of wild birds that might be carrying the virus,
the researchers are also grabbing the opportunity to learn about the
For example, until the scientists began tracking bird flu, little was known about the Nordmann’s greenshank in
the wild. The bird is rare and seldom seen; it is also white, despite its name. Breeding along the coasts of the Sea of Okhotsk and on Sakhalin Island in eastern Russia,
the bird migrates south for the winter, to the beaches of Jambi Province, in Sumatra, Indonesia. Scientists believe the population numbers only 500 to 1,000, worldwide.
throughout much of their habitat led these long-billed shorebirds to become
endangered. As a result, finding
out where these rare
birds make their pit stops as they fly from their northern mating
grounds all the way south to Indonesia is key to their protection.
the last three years,
WCS conservationists observed two relatively large greenshank
groups numbering 7 and 21 birds. As they captured five of the birds, they
attached brightly colored bands to their legs, then released them. Now
birdwatchers and other naturalists stationed along the East
Asian-Australasian Flyway can report their greenshank sightings and
help save the species along with its favorite stopover sites.
“While our surveillance
activities are mostly focused on testing birds for avian influenza as part of
WCS’s ongoing health investigations, we can also fill gaps in our understanding
of the migration range of many bird species,” said Joost Philippa, WCS field veterinarian
and co-author on the study.
Preliminary tests conducted
by the researchers do confirm the presence of avian influenza among
the region's migratory birds. In fact, about 15 percent of the 578 shorebirds
tested carry low-pathogenic forms of the virus. But in a
bit of luck for Nordmann’s greenshanks, all their avian flu tests have turned out to be negative.
A three-year, $750,000 grant
from Cargill, an international producer and marketer of food, agricultural,
financial, and industrial products and services, currently funds WCS’s
monitoring efforts in Indonesia and Vietnam.
Cargill and WCS’s partnership
began in 2005. In addition to monitoring for avian influenza viruses in wild
bird populations, Cargill funding also supports the following efforts as part
of the One World, One Health Initiative: monitoring for avian influenza viruses
in wild birds sold as pets or food; monitoring for malaria in monkeys in the
wildlife trade; training for veterinarians and students; environmental
education for children, and other activities in Asia and Latin America.