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Kenya: Death of Wild Doves in District Puzzles Experts

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  • Kenya: Death of Wild Doves in District Puzzles Experts

    Death of Wild Doves in District Puzzles Experts

    The Nation (Nairobi)

    26 February 2008
    Posted to the web 25 February 2008

    By Edward Koech

    The Government wants residents of West Pokot to stop panicking following the death of wild doves; investigations on what was killing the birds, it says, are on.

    Laboratory tests have ruled out avian flu or Newcastle as the cause of the deaths, according to an assistant director in the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries Development, Dr Catherine Wanjohi.

    "Tests done at Kabete Vet Labs in Nairobi have ruled out the presence of avian flu or Newcastle and now we are investigating the possibility of this being a new disease or a case of poisoning," Dr Wanjohi told the Nation in a telephone interview yesterday.

    Although residents claim that more than 5,000 birds have died in the past month, Dr Wanjohi who is also in charge of avian flu section at the ministry, said reports from her officers on the ground indicate that only about 100 birds had died.

    Taken action

    On why it had taken almost a month to come up with the results, Dr Wanjohi said the ministry was only alerted a week ago and had immediately taken action.

    "We first tested samples for avian flu because the disease has the potential of jumping onto domestic birds and even humans. Secondly we tested for Newcastle," Newcastle is the worst nightmare for poultry farmers because it is highly contagious and with a very high mortality rate.

    Some times back, says Dr Wanjohi, a similar case was experienced in Ethiopia but whatever was killing the doves was never identified conclusively. From this experience, Dr Wanjohi opines that the cause could be new to the area or exotic to the country.

    Responding to concerns from residents of Kacheliba and Alale in West Pokot, the district veterinary officer, Dr Charles Khisa Toroitich, led a team on a tour of the area recently and told residents to stop feeding on dead birds.

    But indications on the ground are that the warning fell on deaf ears as some residents were partaking of the free meal.

    The team banned the movement of poultry and poultry products in the two divisions to stop whatever was killing the doves from affecting domestic birds.

    Dr Toroitich said the disease had killed wild birds in Konyao, Kodich, Kapchok, Lokichar and in Miskwony locations.

    "The disease is spreading fast and is killing wild birds in the bushes but most of the dead birds are found near watering points.

    "We have launched investigations into the cause of mass deaths of wild birds in the affected locations," Dr Toroitich told the Nation at Kapenguria Town.

    He said experts from the Veterinary Investigations Laboratories Unit in Eldoret had collected samples of the dead birds and taken them to Kabete Vet Labs in Nairobi for analysis.

    Dr Toroitich expected the lab results would be out in a week.

    Yesterday Dr Wanjohi gave the Nation their preliminary findings but said analyses were inconclusive.

    Local leaders, among them former Pokot county council chairman Joseph Tomtom, want the Government to move with speed and investigate the cause of the deaths.

    He said panic had gripped residents who feared that the disease that had killed the birds might be zoonotic - able to infect humans.

    Harmful to humans

    Dr Toroitich said most of the hunger-stricken residents had stopped eating the dead birds following public health education campaigns conducted jointly by the Health ministry, veterinary department and provincial administration.

    He appealed to the Government to supply relief food to hunger-stricken residents to prevent them from eating the dead birds.

    Pokot North medical officer of health Alfred Wanyonyi said they had not received any health complaints from those who had eaten the birds.

    Dr Wanyonyi cautioned residents not to touch or eat the dead birds just in case the killing agent could also be harmful to humans.

    "The Government is investigating the disease that is killing the birds and we are appealing to residents to avoid eating dead birds, raw or poorly cooked poultry and poultry products to avoid getting infected with diseases," Dr Wanyonyi said.

    The first lot of dead birds was discovered by some women and their children in Kodich village early this month.

    The women and children woke up one morning to fetch water from a shallow well for domestic use and for their livestock only to find dozens of dead birds at the water point.

    Some of the birds had been eaten by wild animals. Several were too weak to fly.

    The villagers, who are faced with famine due to severe drought in Pokot North District, scrambled for the dead birds and carried them home and cooked them.

    Villager Simeon Alew said news of the newly found source of food spread like bush fire in the villages as the residents feasted on the dead birds.

    The affected birds were mainly the wild doves, which the villagers often hunt and kill as alternative source of food.

    But this time, the birds had played themselves to their door-step at a time of severe drought.

    However, after a few days the villagers got alarmed about the mass deaths of wild birds, prompting them to alert the veterinary department who immediately swung into action and began investigations.

    Confirmed an outbreak

    Early last year, World Health Organisation confirmed an outbreak of Avian Flu in Juba in Southern Sudan, some 219 km away from Lokichogio town in Turkana district.

    Dr Toroitich said no cases of the disease had been detected in the country and assured residents that the government would do everything possible to ensure that the disease does not spread into the country.

    He explained that the disease could be spread into the country through migratory birds from areas where bird flu had been confirmed.

    It could also come through illegal importation of infected poultry or poultry products including trade in caged birds.

    Dr Toroitich further said that the Livestock and Fisheries ministry had set up an extensive disease surveillance system on the international boundary that is able to detect and contain any avian flu outbreaks.

    Livestock experts warn that if the disease broke out in Kenya, commercial poultry production would be adversely affected and lead to deterioration of livelihoods

    In the past the government has assured Kenyan's that it had put in place a rapid response surveillance team in case of any outbreak of Avian flu> However, most of the relevant organisations either had little or no idea of the Pokot bird deaths.