Avian flu is driving sick and dead waterfowl from Poinsett County to Drew County, said Luke Naylor, chief of wildlife management for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.
On Tuesday, a hunter contacted the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette to report dead geese and ducks in a field near Clarendon and another field near the Wabbaseka Scatters. He said there were about 200 dead birds in the Clarendon field.
Naylor said Hunters are notoriously inaccurate when it comes to estimates, but he confirmed the reports were true. An unusually virulent strain of avian influenza circulates primarily among snow geese throughout the Mississippi Delta. He asked hunters to email all their observations, including photos and videos, to the Game and Fish Commission at [email protected]
“It’s the best thing people can do to help us,” Naylor said. “We need locations, photos, any kind of detail would be super helpful. We won’t be able to get out of every report and collect samples, but we will collect samples to confirm that what we think is happening is happening.”
Naylor said wildlife managers strongly believe the culprit is highly pathogenic bird flu. Young snow geese seem to be the hardest hit.
“Since opening weekend [of duck season]we sent people out to get samples,” Naylor said. “It will take time to confirm the cause, but we suspect it is bird flu.”
Naylor said the commission is preparing a Frequently Asked Questions document for the public. In summary, he recommends hunters to be prudent when handling waterfowl and avoid handling sick or dead waterfowl that have died from causes other than gunshot.
Although the probability seems low, there is evidence that the pathogen can be transmitted to mammals. Alaska’s Game and Fish Department recently euthanized a black bear cub who became ill after eating a bird infected with highly pathogenic avian influenza. It was the second bear reportedly infected with the virus. Avian flu has also killed wild foxes and bobcats in Minnesota, Michigan and Ontario.
“I don’t think there’s a huge risk to human health, but it’s always good practice not to do things that are inadvisable, like putting birds in a vehicle and moving them around or handling them,” said Naylor. “Keep yourself and dogs away from them to avoid passing them on to the public or to dogs.”
Other recommendations are to clean birds in open, ventilated places, Naylor added. “Do not eat, drink or smoke while processing game. Wear gloves while cleaning game and practice safe cleaning procedures. Also, cook all game thoroughly.
Limited habitat accelerates disease transmission, Naylor said. Geese and ducks focus on limited habitats currently available in Arkansas. Bird flu is excreted through the digestive tract. Geese excrete prodigious amounts of waste that contaminate entire fields for the next flock of birds to arrive.
“It’s hard to say it’s inevitable, but it’s not unexpected that once birds get down here, they have limited habitat, it’s relatively cold, and birds are concentrated,” Naylor said. “They have to work a little harder than usual in Arkansas in the early fall, so it’s not surprising. And then hunters go to the field and all of a sudden we get reports of geese falling out of the sky and these geese showing clinical signs of disease.”
The commission hasn’t received “thousands” of reports, as some social media outlets claim, Naylor said. As of Wednesday morning, the commission had received 13 reports, he said.
“Thirteen is not thousands,” https://news.google.com/__i/rss/rd/articles/,” Naylor said.
Sick geese really just fall out of the sky, usually early in the morning after being chased from a field. This suggests that bird flu affects the nervous system.
“They’re going to stand there, totally lethargic, like they’ve just lost their fear of something,” Naylor said. “I’ve heard random reports of them getting up and flying into power poles. They end up in duck bait and just stand there and look at you. You stand there with that head-whirl thing. These are classic signs. It appears to be something that’s going on neurologically to cause these signs.”
For nearly 20 years, wildlife managers have warned each other and the public of the possibility of a catastrophic outbreak of bird flu. They coincided with warnings of the possibility that a catastrophic H1N1 virus could break out among the human population. Human flu outbreaks were largely benign until the coronavirus pandemic. A similar situation appears to be circulating among wild waterfowl.
“It’s a different strain of highly pathogenic bird flu,” Naylor said. “There’s still a lot we don’t know about the disease, but like any type of flu virus, there are different strains at different times. Historically, waterbirds all carried trunks, but they hardly ever experienced large-scale mortality. Almost got to the point where, “Yes, the stuff circulates, but it has no effect.” But this current tribe is not the same. It has a much greater impact on wild aquatic birds in terms of actual symptom occurrence and mortality experience. It’s a lot different than what we’ve experienced over the years that you and I have paid attention. “
Naylor said the commission will issue timely information as it becomes available. Hunter reports, with photo and video documentation, will greatly assist in the flow of information to the public, he added.