Alarming numbers of wild birds are being discovered at a Victorian reserve, with the death toll now over 640 since last week.
Signs have been erected around Bells Swamp, a conservation area southwest of Bendigo, with a strict warning against entering the water.
Testing is underway to determine the cause of the mystery illness, which has struck down ducks, spoonbills, moorhens, coots and herons. Symptoms indicate botulism is likely behind the incident, with many birds suffering from paralysis.
While no humans have been impacted yet, anyone living in the area is warned against touching dead birds. It is spread by a bacteria which can attack the body's nervous system, causing problems with breathing and muscle paralysis, and can result in death.
The recovery effort is being led by Parks Victoria which identified the park as a "potential health risk", and assistance is being provided by Zoos Victoria and rescue group Wildlife Victoria.
While the H5N1 bird flu strain is rapidly spreading across Asia, Europe, and the Americas, it has not been detected in Bells Swamp or anywhere else in Australia.
Calls for Andrews Government to end duck season
The episode has unfolded as the Victorian government faces increased pressure from within the Labor Party to end its controversial duck hunting season. It along with South Australia, Northern Territory, Western Australia and Tasmania allows large numbers of native water birds to be gunned down each year.
Responding to the Bells Swamp incident, Wildlife Victoria CEO Lisa Palma urged the Andrews Government to protect the state’s “fragile duck populations” and end duck season, which she called an “outdated practice”.
Laurie Levy from the Coalition Against Duck Shooting told Yahoo News Australia it would be “wonderful” if the season doesn’t go ahead this year. “We’ve been fighting it for a long time. The big hope now is that the push to end it appears to be coming from within the Labor Party,” he said.
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