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Avian flu, Covid-19 force Philippine Eagle Center closure

The threat of H5N6, the highly pathogenic avian influenza or bird flu has forced the Philippine Eagle Center in Malagos, Davao City, to shut down its doors to the public since March 18.

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The bird flu reemerged in the country after more than two years when a similar strain affected the poultry industry. It also drove the breeding and rehabilitation center of the eagles to fend off visitors for a time.

“The threat is still there especially since actions related to the recent outbreak in Luzon have appeared to be insufficient and unclear,” said Philippine Eagle Foundation, Inc executive director Dennis Joseph I. Salvador.

The center will remain off-limits to the public, according to Salvador, until they have a clear statement from the Department of Agriculture that the outbreak has been contained.

The bird flu is said to be zoonotic, which means it can jump and be transmitted to humans.

“I believe the stats say that there is 60% mortality in infected humans,” he said.

Aside from disallowing guests, the center attempted to undertake better biosafety measures. However, this was stalled due to restrictions associated with the current quarantine implemented by the government due to Covid-19.

“We are also asking the city government to help install appropriate land use policies to restrict farming practices around the facility including ban on use of toxic pesticides, poultry and game fowls, etc.,” Salvador said.

When birds and fowl get infected with the flu, symptoms may be difficult to detect but Salvador said that having “ruffled feathers, low energy and egg production especially in poultry” are possible warnings. However, sudden death can also happen without any signs.

There is still no cure yet for the avian influenza. To prevent further contamination, the Department of Agriculture has to exterminate birds and fowls within one kilometer radius of an outbreak.

“This combo of diseases surfacing in our midst not only threatens our national bird directly but our own people as well,” added Salvador.

The center’s income from visitor’s fees help sustain conservation activities of the foundation, including field research and community conservation. The closure, both due to bird flu and Covid-19, is adversely affecting their ability to sustain their mission.

“We have raised this concern and risk to our leaders in the past. Perhaps, now we can put our heads and resources together to invest and develop biosecurity plans, build appropriate infrastructure and seriously enforce measures to address present outbreaks and other emerging diseases,” said Salvador.

The center currently houses 31 Philippine Eagles. There are only 400 pairs known to exist in the wild.

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