Although no new cases of Avian Influenza have been reported in the commercial poultry sector in the Western Cape since October 2017, the Department of Agriculture has confirmed that further incidences of highly pathogenic H5N8 avian flu have been detected amongst Western Cape seabird populations. Amongst African penguins, seven cases from six different sites across the provincial coastline have tested positive.

Due to the status of African penguins as endangered, a decision to treat infected birds has been taken. Treatment protocols are similar to those for flu in humans – appropriate nutrition, hydration, vitamins, and the administration of anti-inflammatory drugs or antibiotics for any secondary infections if necessary. Of the seven cases, one has survived.

Minister of Economic Opportunities, Alan Winde has urged that sick sea birds be reported to the nearest seabird rehabilitation centre. As a precautionary measure it is advisable that you do not touch these birds if you have pet birds at home or if you are working in the poultry or ostrich industry.

Members of the public are also urged to report abnormal numbers of dead wild birds to a local state veterinarian or the responsible conservation authority. If possible, members of the public should take a photo, and record the location, species and number of dead birds observed.

Below is a list of contact numbers for seabird rehabilitation centres:

Western Cape:

Cape Town and surrounds: SANCCOB 021 557 6155

Overstrand and surrounds: African Penguin & Seabird Sanctuary 0725987117

Mossel Bay and surrounds:  SAPREC 0823643382

Plettenberg Bay and surrounds: Tenikwa 0824861515

Eastern Cape:

Port Elizabeth and surrounds: SANCCOB 041 583 1830

“The management authorities of all major seabird colonies on the coastline are monitoring their zones closely. All necessary precautionary protocols to contain the spread of the disease have been implemented and extended surveillance and collaboration across sectors is assisting with further epidemiological evaluations,” said Winde.

CapeNature CEO Razeena Omar said: “CapeNature is working closely with the state vet and has put procedures in place to monitor the virus and restrict the spread by humans between infected and non-infected areas”.

In respect of other wild seabirds, there is no benefit to be gained from trying to control the virus through culling or habitat destruction.

Affected birds show symptoms such as twitching and head tremors and may have difficulty breathing.  Terns and other flying birds can lose their ability to sustain flight. – Press release