Who's an icky polly then?

Britain recorded its first case of infection from the most virulent stain of the avian flu virus this week, as the disease continued its westward march through Europe.

The death of a South American parrot at an exotic bird importing and retailing firm appears to have resulted from a failure of quarantine regulations.

At the same time, the European Union was expected to announce a temporary ban on the commercial importation of millions of wild birds this week after a request from the British government for tougher action.

British experts called for a review of quarantine procedures after an imported parrot died of bird flu at Pegasus Birds in Essex, south-east England.

A spokesperson for the United Kingdom’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) refused to confirm the identity of the ‘disease site’‘, but veterinary and other animal welfare sources said the company had been responsible for housing the parrot in quarantine conditions.

The bird, from Surinam, died after apparently contracting H5NI from imported Taiwanese birds kept in the same living space, in what a leading avian vet said was a ‘failure’’ of quarantine regulations.

It emerged last week that the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals had previously investigated animal welfare at Pegasus Birds. Half the aviaries at the site were empty, but some chickens and parakeets were in cages, waiting to be sold.

Brett Hammond, director of Pegasus Birds, refused to comment when contacted at his home.
His partner, Katrin Geilin, said: ‘We have been told by Defra not to say anything.”

Alan Jones, a leading avian vet, said there should be an urgent review of the quarantine conditions in the UK. ‘There should never have been a situation where birds from different continents shared the same air space,’’ he said. ‘I would question the wisdom at the moment anyway of having brought in birds from South-East Asia at all.’‘

Debby Reynolds, the government’s chief veterinary officer, said quarantine regulations would be examined urgently, adding there were ‘quite a number of unanswered questions”. Imported birds must spend at least 30 days in quarantine.

Quarantine facilities are privately run and licensed by Defra, but Duncan McNiven, a Royal Society for the Protection of Birds investigative officer, said the system was badly regulated.

‘What people often don’t realise is that these birds aren’t held in some state-of-the-art facility at London-Heathrow airport,” he said. ‘They are quarantined in a shed in a backyard somewhere and a government vet will visit and take away dead birds to test.

‘They are then sold on through pet shops and bird fairs and some of these are in huge halls with all these imported birds and lots of people crowded round.”

Avian vets welcomed the expected EU decision to widen the ban on importing live birds to the whole of Europe. Import bans have already been imposed on live birds from areas where H5NI has been confirmed, including Turkey, Romania and the Greek island of Chios.

Nearly 250 000 rare birds, some under threat of extinction, are commercially imported into Britain each year under the convention on the international trade in endangered species.—

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