Bird flu is leading to 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 from another field near the Wabbaseka Scatters. He said there were about 200 dead birds in the Clarendon field.
Naylor said hunters are notoriously inaccurate about estimating everything, but he confirmed the reports are true. An unusually virulent strain of bird flu is circulating primarily among snow geese in the Mississippi River Delta. He asked hunters to share all their observations, including photos and videos, by emailing them to the Game and Fish Commission at [email protected]
“That’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 can’t go out there and collect samples from every report, but we will collect samples to confirm that what we think is happening is happening.”
Naylor said wildlife managers strongly suspect the culprit is highly pathogenic bird flu. Young snow geese of the year seem to be the hardest hit.
“Since opening weekend [of duck season]”We sent people out to get samples,” Naylor said. “It will take a while to confirm the cause, but we suspect it is avian flu.”
Naylor said the committee is preparing a FAQ document for the public. In summary, he advises hunters to be smart with waterfowl and avoid interacting with sick or dead waterfowl that have died from causes other than gunfire.
Although the likelihood seems low, there is some evidence that the pathogen can be passed on to mammals. The Alaska Wildlife and Fish Department recently euthanized a black bear cub who fell ill after eating a bird infected with the highly pathogenic avian flu. It was the second bear reportedly infected with the virus. Avian flu has also claimed the lives of 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 aren’t advisable, like putting birds in a vehicle and moving or handling them,” Naylor said. “Keep yourself and dogs away to avoid passing it on to the public or to dogs.”
Other recommendations are to clean birds in open ventilated locations, Naylor added. “Do not eat, drink or smoke while handling game. Wear gloves when cleaning game and practice safe cleaning procedures. Cook all game thoroughly as well.
Limited habitat accelerates disease transmission, Naylor said. Geese and ducks concentrate in limited amounts of habitat currently available in Arkansas. Bird flu spreads through the digestive tract. Geese excrete massive amounts of waste that infect entire fields before the next flock of birds arrives.
“It’s hard to say it’s inevitable, but it’s not unexpected that once birds settle here, they have limited habitat, it’s relatively cold, and birds are concentrated,” Naylor said. “They have to work a little harder than usual at the beginning of the fall in Arkansas, so it’s not surprising. And then hunters go out into the field and all of a sudden we’re getting reports of geese falling from the sky and geese showing clinical signs of illness.”
The commission has not received “thousands” of reports, as some social media outlets claim, Naylor said. On Wednesday morning, he said the commission has received 13 reports.
“Thirteen is not ‘thousands,’ https://news.google.com/__i/rss/rd/articles/,” Naylor said.
Sick geese really come out of the sky, usually early in the morning after being chased out of a field. That suggests that bird flu affects the nervous system.
“They’ll stand there, totally lethargic, like they’ve just lost their fear of everything,” Naylor said. “I’ve heard random reports of them getting up and flying into power poles. They land in duck decoys and just stand there and look at you. They’re standing there with heads spinning like this. Those are classic signs. That seems to be about something neurologically going on to cause those symptoms.”
For nearly 20 years, conservationists have been warning each other and the public about the possibility of a catastrophic bird flu outbreak. They coincided with warnings about the possibility of a catastrophic H1N1-type virus breaking out in the human population. Human flu outbreaks were largely benign until the coronavirus pandemic. A similar situation appears to exist in 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 as with any type of flu virus, there are different strains at different times. In the past, waterfowl carried all strains, but they almost never experienced large-scale mortality. It’s almost come to the end point where: ‘Yes, things are circulating, but it has no impact.’ But this current species is not the same It has a much greater impact on wild waterfowl in terms of actually showing symptoms and experiencing mortality It’s very different from what we’ve experienced in the years that you and I have been paying attention have spent.”
Naylor said the committee will provide timely information as it becomes available. Hunter reports, with photo and video documentation, will greatly aid the flow of information to the public, he added.