Bonn, 13 July 2023 – The Scientific Task Force on Avian Influenza and Wild Birds – co-convened by the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) – has sounded the alarm on the current near-global spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) and the unparalleled scale of mortality among wild birds. Among other recommendations, the Task Force urges countries to consider HPAI as a conservation issue, plan accordingly and avoid culling measures of wild birds. It also calls for a ‘One Health’ approach to ensure appropriate cross-sectoral attention to human, animal and environmental health.
“H5N1 avian influenza has now spread to nearly every part of the world and is having major impacts on wild birds as well as numerous terrestrial, freshwater, and marine mammal species. Governments are urged to take the actions set forth in the new expert guidance to address this threat to both domestic poultry and wildlife.”
Amy Fraenkel, Executive Secretary of CMS
The Scientific Task Force on Avian Influenza and Wild Birds was established in 2005 by CMS in close cooperation with the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA). It aims to bring together the best scientific advice on the conservation impact of the spread of avian influenza and to assess the role of migratory birds as vectors of the virus.
“Avian Influenza continues to be a problem for both poultry and wild birds. In terms of AEWA species, recent outbreaks have shown that the virus is having a devastating impact on colonial waterbirds such as gannets, terns and pelicans.”
Jacques Trouvilliez, Executive Secretary of AEWA
In its latest statement released today, the Task Force provides a global situation update highlighting the current spread of HPAI from Asia and Europe into the Americas. This is not only causing extensive outbreaks and mortality events among wild birds but also among mammals such as foxes, seals and dolphins that consume dead and infected wild birds. The extent and scale of the outbreaks are having significant consequences for the conservation of multiple species. The repercussions are particularly alarming for globally threatened species, including a number of crane species. The large-scale loss of breeding adults among long-lived seabirds has the potential for significant longer-term impacts on their populations.
“A One Health approach is crucial to deal with the complex challenge of HPAI spread in poultry, wild birds and other mammalian species. Multisectoral preparedness and response, as well as mainstreaming prevention at primary producer and value chain level is crucial to protect biodiversity, poultry, people, and the planet.”
Keith Sumption, Chief of the Zoonoses and AMR Centre/Chief Veterinary Officer/Lead for FAO’s One Health priority programme
The virus originated in the poultry sector two decades ago and has since jumped back and forth between wild and domestic settings. The increase in HPAI pandemics is associated with the growth and intensification of the poultry sector, prompting calls for reforms to poultry production systems to help mitigate further risks. Given the scale of current outbreaks, HPAI must now be seen as not just a threat to poultry production, livelihoods and economies but also a significant threat to wildlife – and a major conservation issue.
"The scale of the mortality has been appalling. A number of wild bird species already affected by some of the greatest human-induced pressures such as climate change are now hapless victims to this disease. When this virus escaped to the wild some 20 years ago the ‘genie’ was in effect ‘out of the bottle’. After a faltering start, we are now in a new era of a ‘fitter virus’. This is still a dynamic situation and we fear further spread of the virus into, as yet, unaffected oceanic islands where species such as albatrosses breed.”
Dr. Ruth Cromie, CMS Scientific Councillor and Coordinator of the Scientific Task Force on Avian Influenza and Wild Birds
The Task Force’s statement provides further key observations and recommendations:
The latest statement of the Scientific Task Force on Avian Influenza and Wild Birds can be found here: https://www.cms.int/en/publication/h5n1-high-pathogenicity-avian-influenza-wild-birds-unprecedented-conservation-impacts
About the Scientific Task Force on Avian Influenza and Wild Birds:
The Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) co-convened the Scientific Task Force on Avian Influenza and Wild Birds in 2005. It works as a communication and coordination network and continues to review the role of wild birds in the epidemiology of avian influenza and the impact of the disease on wild birds, promoting a balanced opinion based on currently available evidence. Task Force observers include the United Nations Environment Programme, the World Health Organization and the World Organization for Animal Health. Task Force members include FAO, CMS and the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds, BirdLife International, the East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership, the EcoHealth Alliance, the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, the Royal Veterinary College, Wetlands International, and the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT).
Citation: CMS FAO co-convened Scientific Task Force on Avian Influenza and Wild Birds (2023). Scientific Task Force on Avian Influenza and Wild Birds statement on H5N1 high pathogenicity avian influenza in wild –unprecedented conservation impacts and urgent needs. Available at: https://www.cms.int/en/publication/h5n1-high-pathogenicity-avian-influenza-wild-birds-unprecedented-conservation-impacts
Last updated on 14 July 2023