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Planet Ark World Environment News Flamingo Deaths Spark Bird Flu Probe in Bahamas

Date: 01-Mar-06
Country: BAHAMAS
Author: John Marquis

Over the past two days, 15 of the island's famed flamingos, five roseate spoonbills and one cormorant have been found dead with no external injuries on the island just north of Haiti, officials said.

Scientists from the Bahamas Ministry of Agriculture and the Department of Environmental Health will gather samples from the birds and then submit them for laboratory analysis.

"Anything is possible in nature. You have birds that fly around the world," said Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources Leslie Miller, declining to rule out the H5N1 bird flu strain that has killed at least 93 people and spread to 20 new countries in the past month alone.

"But let's hope to God that that is not the case here in the Bahamas," Miller said.

The H5N1 virus is endemic in birds across parts of Asia but has since spread to Europe and Africa. Experts fear it could mutate into a form more easily passed between humans and trigger a pandemic in which millions could die.

Bahamas National Trust president Glenn Bannister said he had never known such a large number of bird deaths in the Bahamas at one time.

"This is a very large number of birds to be found dead at Inagua. This is highly unusual," he said.

Inagua is the second largest breeding ground for flamingos outside of Africa.

Although the three species affected on the island are not migratory birds, Bannister said they come into contact with geese and ducks that migrate to Inagua during the winter.

"Migrating birds are in Inagua all the time," he said. "Every winter they mix right in with the other birds in the ponds. If this is West Nile or bird flu, it will not be good for our bird population."

Inagua is the southernmost island of the Bahamas chain, lying about 60 miles (100 km) from the northern coast of Haiti. It is a large sparsely populated island known primarily for sea salt production.

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