Seoul Zoo strives to fend off bird flu

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Seoul Zoo strives to fend off bird flu

The H5N8 strain of avian influenza (AI) was detected yesterday in the carcass of a migratory wild goose in Gwacheon, Gyeonggi, which borders Seoul on the south, threatening not only the capital city but also a zoo in Gwacheon that has thousands of birds within the premises, including rare and endangered species.

The authorities are now examining the virus to figure out whether it is highly pathogenic.

Seoul Zoo, which is only 1.4 kilometers (0.8 miles) away from where the infected carcass was found, decided to close as of noon and took preventive quarantine measures.

The zoo had resumed operations on March 4 after a monthlong closure as a preventive measure to avoid AI infection. It is raising 103 species of rare and endangered birds - about 1,139 total. That includes 385 globally endangered species and 275 birds designated as Korean Natural Monuments.

According to regulations, if a poultry farm is infected with AI, the birds raised in farms located within a 500-meter radius must be culled, and authorities may also cull birds on poultry farms within 3 kilometers if they believe it is necessary.

Zoos, however, may be exempt from such regulations, especially if the birds are rare and must be preserved. Birds in zoos usually do not have any sort of interaction with animals on neighboring farms.

If AI-infected birds are found nearby, zoos will close but will not cull their birds.

Even though Seoul Zoo has a policy that states it will cull birds infected by bird flu, such an instance appears unlikely.

“Most of the birds kept by the zoo are less likely to be infected by AI,” said Park Bum, the Seoul Zoo official in charge of animal protection. “The birds [in the zoo] need to be checked by disease control authorities, but we are not likely to cull the birds”

Korean zoos have never before been compromised, and there has only been one case in which birds raised in zoos were culled as a preventive measure. In May 2008, when two pheasants used for nature education at the Gwangjin District Office in Seoul were found to have been infected by AI and died, two nearby zoos, the Seoul Children’s Grand Park and Seoul Zoo, culled birds that were vulnerable to the disease, including chickens, ducks and turkeys, as a preventive measure.

To ensure the zoo will not be affected by the disease, Seoul Zoo covered its bird cages to block the feces from migratory birds. Its birdkeepers will also be on watch this week. Additionally, the hiking routes that lead to Cheonggye Mountain, where the AI-infected wild goose carcass was found, have been shut down.

“We are employing emergency protocols and sterilizing [the zoo] three to six times a day,” said Gang Yeong-wook, the zoo’s public relations chief.


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