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WWF Experts Available For Comment On Avian Flu, Bird Trade and Wildlife Impacts

WASHINGTON - World Wildlife Fund has two experts available to discuss avian flu, the impact to wildlife and North American quarantine policies.

The vice president of species conservation is available to discuss avian flu's impact on wild bird trade and quarantine policies for imported birds. The deputy director of WWF's conservation science program is available to answer questions regarding the behavior of migratory birds and the potential spread of avian flu along migratory routes.

Avian Flu and Wildlife Trade
"Questions have arisen about the safety of birds imported for the pet trade," said Ginette Hemley, WWF's vice president for species conservation. "But the public should know that birds legally brought into the United States and Canada are subject to a 30-day quarantine period, which is enough time to identify diseased birds before they're cleared for import. Also, temporary live bird import bans have been put into place from countries experiencing avian flu outbreaks such as Indonesia and Thailand. Illegal trade is a greater concern, as there is no way to impose health restrictions on smuggled birds."

Millions of wild-caught and captive-bred birds are traded internationally each year through both legal and illegal channels. In light of the outbreak of the HN51 avian flu strain in Asia, WWF and TRAFFIC, the world's leading wildlife trade monitoring group, support countries that wish to suspend imports of both wild and captive-bred birds. But wildlife trade experts warn that more must be done to reduce the level of illegal bird trade, which could expand as legal trade is restricted.

Avian Flu and Migratory Birds
Experts do not have a clear picture of the role that migratory birds play in the spread of this particular strain of avian flu but it is possible that ducks, geese and wading birds could spread HN51 along migratory routes.

"World Wildlife Fund does not believe that culling wild birds is an effective control measure to stop the spread of avian flu. Culls of wild birds are unlikely to stop the spread of avian flu and culling could actually make the situation worse by dispersing infected individuals and stressing healthy birds, making them more prone to disease," said John Morrison, deputy director of WWF's conservation science program. "The focus for now should be on monitoring domestic poultry, minimizing the movement of domestic poultry and keeping contact between domestic poultry and wild bird populations to an absolute minimum."