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Bird Flu: Tom Stehn Speaks
(March 20, 2006)

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Tom Stehn looks for cranes on the salt marsh at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas

Wild birds are subject to all kinds of potential diseases. We know avian tuberculosis and fowl cholera have killed whooping cranes. West Nile Virus is a new introduced disease that has killed numerous birds, but fortunately whooping crane adults seem to be only mildly impacted.

I am not overly concerned about bird flu. Bird flu has presumably been around for years and years, but in the dense populations that domestic poultry are kept in, diseases can spread rapidly and can become a real problem. Since the type of bird flu that health experts are concerned about (H5N1) has not yet been documented in North America [as of March, 2006], I am not particularly concerned about how it might impact wild whooping cranes. However, what I am concerned about is what might happen to the captive flocks of whooping cranes if H5N1 is found in the captive whooping cranes, or is found in flocks of domestic chickens near the captive whooping crane flocks. Current U.S. Department of Agriculture policy calls for eradication of all domestic birds within 4 kilometers of an outbreak. I wonder what would happen if an outbreak in domestic poultry occurs near a captive whooping crane flock or near a zoo? Hopefully some kind of quarantine could be imposed so that rare birds could be saved.

Tom Stehn, Whooping Crane Coordinator
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Aransas NWR
P.O. Box 100
Austwell, TX 77950

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