EPA investigating death of bowerbirds from toxic pesticide
Insecticide poisoning caused the death of 15 satin bowerbirds found at Modanville, near Lismore in recent weeks, investigators have revealed.
A Satin Bowerbird. Source: Wikipedia
Investigations conducted by North Coast Local Land Services have confirmed that the bird deaths were caused by the banned insecticide Fenthion.
The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) is now seeking assistance from members of the public in a bid to determine how the poisoning occurred.
As the responsible regulator for pesticide use, the EPA is exploring the possibility that the birds, which are a protected native species, may have been deliberately targeted.
No other bird species is known to have been impacted.
EPA Manager Regional Operations North Coast Benjamin Lewin said the killing of native birds, whether through intentional or reckless pesticide misuse, was a serious offence.
‘We are encouraging anyone with information on these deaths, or anyone who may have seen some activity that could be related to this illegal baiting, to contact the EPA as soon as possible,’ Mr Lewin said.
Fenthion, which was banned from use in 2014 with a phase out period of one year, is a broad-spectrum organophosphorus insecticide.
It is extremely toxic to birds and substantial penalties exist for its possession and use.
The chemical was widely used in the past for insect control on a broad range of fruit crops and for external parasite control on livestock.
Last year, infectious disease experts warned of a shadowy killer that was preparing to strike – Disease X, an as yet unidentified pathogen that could cause a global pandemic and kill millions.
The warning from the World Health Organization (WHO) made headlines around the world and raised the profile of the threat posed by potentially deadly infectious diseases.
Disease X is what military planners call a “known unknown” and by including it on its list of the most dangerous pathogens, the WHO signaled that epidemics are inherently unpredictable and that surveillance was vital.
Now, a team of UK virus hunters has revealed how the country has faced down its own Disease X scenario on multiple occasions in recent years.
At the launch of its first ever strategy on infectious diseases on Wednesday, Public Health England (PHE) revealed that 12 “novel” infections and viruses have been identified in the UK in the last 10 years.
The diseases include tularemia, a life-threatening infection found in the US that is spread by rabbits and rodents; Crimean-Congo haemmorhagic fever, an Ebola-type illness that is prevalent in Africa and is spread by ticks; and monkeypox, a rare virus which is similar to human smallpox, three cases of which were identified in the UK last year.
While the majority of these outbreaks involved just one or two cases, there were 315 UK cases of Zika, a mosquito-borne virus that spread through South America between 2015 and 2016, leading to birth defects in babies born to mothers infected with the disease. The majority were associated with travel to affected countries while one was thought to have been sexually transmitted.
There have also been 250 cases of candida auris, a “shape shifting” fungal infection first identified in Japan which is thought to have killed eight patients in UK hospitals over recent years.
While all the outbreaks were successfully contained, they highlight how the threat from infectious diseases is changing. Ancient scourges such as tuberculosis are no longer a threat while diseases that have been brought to the UK by international travel are on the rise.
The threat of climate change also means we are more likely to “witness a global pandemic in the coming years”, PHE warned.
Invoking the threat of Disease X, Professor Sharon Peacock, director of the national infection service, said: “Infectious diseases are evolving and we must continue to innovate and strengthen the science that keeps us safe – whether that’s whole genome sequencing to rapidly contain outbreaks of known infections or enhanced surveillance and preparedness for when an unknown disease strikes.”
One surveillance strategy employed by PHE virus hunters is scouring the internet for rumours of new diseases and unusual incidents. They monitor official sources such as reports from ministries of health and the WHO but they also constantly scan news websites and social media.
The scientists picked up “chatter” about an undiagnosed outbreak of fever and rash in Brazil in early 2015 – months before the Zika outbreak was officially confirmed in May 2015.
At the same time as new diseases are emerging the antibiotics doctors desperately rely on to keep epidemics at bay are losing their power.
PHE has identified 19 new superbugs in the last 10 years, the majority of which could not be treated with even last resort antibiotics such as colistin or carbapenems. Instead, doctors had to rely on experimental treatments and cocktails of different drugs.
In the last year three cases of “super gonorrhea” have also been identified in the UK – the first, described by PHE as the world’s worst ever case, was picked up in south east Asia, while the other two cases were acquired in the UK, prompting concerns over further spread of the disease.
None of the cases responded to the usual antibiotics and the patients had to be admitted to hospital and put on a drip.
Professor Chris Whitty, chief scientific adviser at the Department of Health, said: “Despite our arsenal of vaccines and antimicrobials infectious disease remains a real threat to public health. We are constantly faced with new threats and antimicrobial resistance is growing.”
Protect yourself and your family by learning more about Global Health Security
- Superbugs – Antibiotic resistance
- Zika virus
- Disease X
- Global Health Security
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Smoke has filled the valley. Wake up call for the summer ahead.
At the International Penguin Conference in New Zealand, the experts were worried. Among sobering discussions about the perils of the climate crisis and habitat loss, the unlikely issue of wildlife selfies photobombed the agenda, with increasing concern that the celebrity-fuelled search for that perfect shot is affecting animal behaviour.
Professor Philip Seddon, the director of Otago University’s wildlife management programme, said: ‘We’re losing respect for wildlife, we don’t understand the wild at all.”
Seddon told the global convention – held in Dunedin last week – that the normalisation of wildlife selfies was “scary” and was harming animals, including causing physical and emotional stress, interrupting feeding and breeding habits, and even potentially lowering birth rates.
“The trouble with wildlife selfies is the images are often appearing without any context – so even if the message is promoting conservation or an ambassador programme, that message is lost and all people see are someone hugging a penguin, and want to do that too,” says Seddon.
Certainly inspiring tv. Not a herbicide in sight too.