Swans fitted with transmitters in bird flu fight

(Sep. 6, 2006) Outfitting swans with super-light Teflon backpacks containing solar-powered GPS satellite transmitters is the latest way scientists and researchers are trying to fight the spread of avian influenza.

Ten whooper swans were captured in far eastern Mongolia, near the borders of Russia and China, by an international team of scientists in early August as part of a study to shed light on how wild birds may be involved in spreading bird flu.

The whooper swans were chosen for the experiment because large numbers of the species have died in Mongolia and western China in the past two years. Tests verified that some of them were infected with highly pathogenic avian influenza. The H5 and H7 types of avian influenza cause very high death rates in poultry and are blamed for the vast majority of bird flu cases in humans, with the H5N1 bird flu strain killing an estimated 141 people.

An international team of scientists will track the birds' migration routes to glean information to aid in the fight against bird flu.

"Although poultry and bird trade are probably the primary routes of movement (of avian influenza), migratory birds are likely involved in some areas," Dr. Scott Newman, a spokesman for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, said in a statement on Wednesday.

The team also involves scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Mongolian Academy of Sciences and the U.S. Geological Survey.

After capture, each of the 18-pound (8-kg) large swans were fitted with backpack harnesses carrying 2.3-ounce (70-gram) transmitters. The harnesses are made of Teflon ribbon that deteriorates and falls off within a few years. "

Although we are sampling wild birds for avian influenza in the field, we will not be able to fully understand their role in this disease unless we better understand their movements," Wildlife Conservation Society spokesman William Karesh said. (from Reuters)


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