Cairo Zoo declares war on bird flu

Daily Star Egypt Staff
5 Min Read

CAIRO: Masked men shrouded in white protective clothing spray rhinos, ibises and peacocks with disinfectant in a mad dash to stop the bird flu virus from turning Cairo Zoo into an animal graveyard. The paunchy men, clad in white, carry a hose that shoots out the watery Virkon disinfectant meant to save the menagerie from the lethal flu that doctors fear could be the world s next great health pandemic. Egypt is on high alert after the highly pathogenic H5N1 bird flu virus was believed to have claimed the nation s first human victim last weekend and infected others. Since being discovered in mid-February, 17 of Egypt s 26 provinces have found cases of birds infected with the potent H5N1 strain and the government has authorized the culling of millions of fowl. Nasser Kamel, spokesman for the government s anti-bird flu campaign, believes they have probably exterminated 10 to 15 million birds, a serious blow to Egypt s 40,000 chicken farms. We are going to reach our goal and with transparency, Kamel said. Cairo Zoo has been hit badly by the virus. On February 19th, the health ministry ordered the closure of the zoo after several birds died from avian flu. The zoo s artificial lake was considered a breeding ground for the virus after 82 birds were found dead by the lake from avian flu. Six of them, including a duck, turkey and Chinese geese all carried the H5N1 strain. Another 563 birds who paddled in the lake were slaughtered and the government drained the water body. The zoo s director, Talal Sidrak, told AFP: We have decided to close all eight zoos in the country. Along with the Ukraine s Odessa zoo, Egypt is the only country in the world to have shuttered all its zoos. The Cairo zoo, created in 1891, is one of the oldest in the world. It was founded on the grounds of Khedive Ismail s old harem, where the Khedive imported wild flowers and exotic plants from across Asia, Africa and South America. About 10 million people visit the zoo each year, double the number of New York s Bronx zoo and 12 times the number at Vincennes Park in Paris. On an average day, 30,000 people visit the zoo and up to 100,000 can visit the grounds on a holiday. But gone now are the days of family picnics and water pipes and children holding balloons. I can t do anything, Sidrak said. The only people in the zoo now are its staff and anti-bird flu squads, in their goggles and protective masks, carrying tanks on their backs to spray disinfectant or injecting vaccines into animals in this 350,000 square meter park. There is nothing to be afraid of. My lions are in good health, said guard Mohammed Mussa before throwing two lions hunks of meat. The entire zoo s twittering tenants, caged or not, cannot escape the treatment, even stray cats and the zoos 300 employees have to be hosed down with disinfectant. The virus has altered many features of Cairo life. The city s famed rooftop farms have been devastated by the outbreak and many believe it is no accident that the first cases were spotted in Egypt s capital. The government has urged people to stop rooftop farming as the dirty pens are a meeting place where migratory birds can mingle with domestic fowl. Egypt has also banned poultry imports and hunting for migratory birds. Two million birds are born each day in Egypt and millions of migratory birds, including swans, herons, swallows, flamingos make Egypt their home in winter months or simply fly through. Egypt is on a major route for migratory birds, at the crossroads between Asia and Africa. Since the appearance of … H5N1 in Asia in 2003, we have installed a surveillance network around the northern great lakes in Egypt, said Magdi Faez, the head of veterinarian services at the agriculture ministry. The H5N1 strain has killed about 100 people worldwide since 2003 and led to the wholesale slaughter of millions of birds. Scientists fear a global pandemic if the virus mutates and becomes easily transmissible between humans. AFP

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