/ 9 November 2021

Downward trend in deaths due to bird flu in the Western Cape

Poultry Farmer Raises Battery Chickens Amid Bird Flu Scare
The H5N1 bird flu outbreak that was first detected in South Africa in April on a farm in the West Rand, Johannesburg, is now threatening the great white pelican population in the Western Cape.(Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)

The outbreak of avian influenza in the Western Cape appears to be slowing with fewer daily deaths.

The latest data shows more than 18 000 birds have died in the outbreak that was announced on 14 October, of which the majority — 17 926 — are the wild seabird Cape cormorants. 

“The outbreak is not yet over but the numbers of dying birds continue to decline in most regions … We hope we’ve turned the corner, but more time is needed to be sure,” the province’s head of local government, environmental affairs and development planning, Anton Bredell, said on Tuesday.

On Monday, only 59 Cape cormorants were found dead on Dyer Island, situated off the coast of Gansbaai in the Overberg area of the province. The rate of deaths has shown a noticeable decline compared to the peak of the outbreak when about 500 per day were dying on the island. 

There have been no reports of the virus spreading inland or to other unaffected regions “which may suggest that our ongoing interventions have paid off”, said Bredell. He attributed this to stakeholders and officials who had worked tirelessly for more than a month to contain and manage the outbreak.

Meanwhile, a report on the mass mortality rate on seals along the Western Cape shoreline is expected this week. 

The Mail & Guardian reported last week that thousands of emaciated Cape fur seals, including premature pups and sub-adult females, have washed up dead since the first reports of higher than normal mortalities at Paternoster, Shelly Beach and Elands Bay, emerged in early September. 

According to Bredell, the report on the cause of the deaths are expected this week.  

He maintained the seal deaths were “not likely to be caused by the ongoing avian influenza epidemic affecting wild seabirds,” adding that, according to experts “some deaths amongst seal populations at this time of the year can be expected, however what we are seeing is an abnormally high number of animals sick and dying on the coastline”.

Sightings of dead seals can be reported to [email protected] and report sick seals to [email protected]. Sick or dead seabirds can be reported to state veterinarians here.