Avian Flu Early Warning System Given Green Light

Conference of the Convention on Migratory Species - Nairobi, Kenya, 21 to 25 November 2005

Nairobi/Bonn, 20 November 2005 -An avian flu early warning system, able to alert countries and communities to the arrival of potentially infected wild birds, is to be developed by an alliance of organizations led by the United Nations.

The system will be designed to alert authorities on different continents that migratory water birds are on their way.

Special maps are to be developed for individual countries pin pointing the precise locations such as lakes, marshes and other wetland areas where the birds are likely to go.

Armed with such information, local health and environment bodies on continents like Africa, Asia and in Latin Americawill be better able to prioritize their planning and response.

This may include the issuance of advice to vulnerable groups in potential‘hot spot’ areas.

Advice may include recommending that farmers move poultry away from key wetlands so as to minimize cross transmission with migratory birds up to hygiene advice to licensed hunters on handling harvested birds.

The warning system, details of which were announced at an international wildlife conference taking place in Nairobi, Kenya, is to be developed by the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) with support and funding from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Experts from other leading organizations such as Wetlands International,Birdlife International and the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation are also expected to be part of the scheme.

Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of UNEP which is hosting the meeting, said:“ Precise information on the places where migratory birds go including their resting sites and finally destinations is currently scattered across a myriad of organizations, bodies and groups. It is absolutely vital that this is brought together in a way that is useful to those dealing with the threat of this pandemicbacked up by high quality, precision, mapping”.

“There are also important gaps in our scientific knowledge about ‘fly ways’ and migratory routes for some species. We need to urgently bridge that gap too. In doing so I believe this initiative can make a valuable contribution to the world-wide effort to deal with this threatened pandemic,” he added.

Robert Hepworth, Executive Secretary of CMS, said: “We will, with UNEP and other partners, be treating the development of this early warning system as a matter of priority. To fully realize it may take two years. But we know that it is needed and we know that the issue of avian flu and similar infections is likely to be a long term one. So such a system should be useful not only over the short but over the long term too. We hope it will be particularly useful in developing countries which are under particular pressure to make the best use of limited resources”.

He said the UNEP-CMS initiative would also be holding talks with other bodies who have expressed interest in the need for such a system, including the European Commission, so as to dovetail efforts and avoid duplication.

The exact workings of the system have yet to be ironed out. However, the timing of migrations can vary from year to year and from season to season depending on numerous factors including weather and climatic conditions.

An efficient early warning system will have to feed in observations from sites throughout the world on when water birds are starting their migration and relay this onto countries likely to receive these populations.

News of the system comes as hundreds of delegates have gathered in Nairobi for the eighth conference to the parties to the CMS including the UK environment minister Jim Knight.

Other issues at the conference, which runs until 25 November, include plans for a new agreement among 13 countries to conserve the West African elephant; a new report on threats to dolphins, porpoises and other small cetaceans and studies assessing the conservation status of African and Eurasian birds of prey.

The first ever award of a new Euro 10,000 prize for a Doctoral thesis on migratory species is being made to an American scientist, Dr Zeb Hogan, for his work on the critically threatened giant Mekong catfish—the world’s largest freshwater fish.

Two special sessions also took place over the weekend on relationships between climate change, animal diseases and migratory species. On Sunday delegates attended an informal event to hear presentations on migratory species from many of the CMS convention’s partners including the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, the World Wide Fund for Nature and IUCN: The World Conservation Union.

Migratory species, creatures that travel across frontiers and territorial waters, face an increasing range of existing and emerging threats to their survival including poaching, habitat loss and pollution up to climate change andanimal diseases.

The conference will consider several species for new protection measures and conservation listings including three species of African bats, the basking shark and gorillas.

Notes to Editors

More details on the conference can be found at www.cms.int

The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals is a United Nations Environment Programme-linked convention located in Bonn, Germany, with a current membership of over 90 countries.

For More Information Please Contact Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson, Office of the Executive Director, on Tel: 254 20 623084, Mobile: 254 (0) 733 632755, e-mail: nick.nuttall@unep.org

Also during the conference Veronika Lenarz, CMS Information, on Mobile: 254 (0) 724259762 or E:mail: vlenarz@cms.int

UNEP News Release


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