Park Free of Bird Flu but Fears Remain

VIETNAM – After reports of dead civets in Vietnam's National Park, local authorities have been under continuous commercial pressure to eliminate any threat of bird flu, whilst anxiously awaiting diagnostic results.
calendar icon 27 March 2008
clock icon 5 minute read

New information reveals that none of the samples of soil, water and blood of civets taken from Cuc Phuong National Park contain H5N1 but experts still consider the fight against bird flu at the park to have just begun.

Information about civets dying of bird flu in Cuc Phuong has worried locals and tourists. Will the park be a safe tourist site? Journalists surveyed the park to seek an answer.

The curfew

Though all samples of soil, water and civet blood were clear of the H5N1 virus, the park’s animal preservation zone is under a curfew. Anybody who wants to get in or get out of this zone must obey strict rules.

Nguyen Dang Phuong, coordinator of the Owston’s palm civet preservation programme, opened the door for journalists and immediately closed it. The newcomers had to step into a basin containing a transparent liquid and then into another basin containing a dark pink liquid. Phuong said the pink liquid is an expensive decontaminant medicine.

Deputy Director of the Wildlife Rescue and Preservation Centre Bui Dang Phong said the first civet died in early February. On that day, the park organised the lunar New Year’s Eve party, inviting all foreign experts. He waited for a long time for an Australian volunteer at the party. Finally, he went to the civet preservation zone, where the volunteer named Leanne worked, to find her. Leanne was in a civet cage at that time and she told him that a civet was ill. It died after that.

As the weather was cold, experts said the civet died of pneumonia or food poisoning but several days later, 3 more civets died.

Leanne brought samples of the four dead civets to HCM City for testing, which revealed that they died of H5N1. Cuc Phuong had only eight more civets and if they died of H5N1, the civet preservation project would fail and this species would be at risk of extinction because in Vietnam, just several tens of individual civets are preserved in rescue centres.

The centre immediately sent blood samples of the remaining civets to the National Veterinary Diagnosis Centre for testing.

The war begins

Those tests show that the living civets don’t have H5N1, but preservation experts at Cuc Phuong consider that the war against H5N1 has just begun. The tenseness was partially relieved when they received the testing results but they still are taking strict bio-safety measures.

Between civet cages, experts place basins containing decontaminants and each civet has its own diary, which is hung on its cage door. Every move of the animal is recorded in the diary. Cuc Phuong currently preserves 12 civets, including 8 Owston’s palm civets.

Taking journalists to a civet cage, Phuong said civets mainly eat beef, bananas, apples, earthworms, grasshoppers and frogs, so experts have to catch grasshoppers and earthworms for them every day.

Phuong has worked at the park since 2005 so Phuong knows clearly about each civet. He said Tiger Lyly, which died of H5N1, was the nicest civet in the park and didn’t like rain.

Civets in Cuc Phuong park have beautiful names like New Girl, DD, Tiger Lyly and some are named after their care-takers, for example Dat, Quyen, Duc, and Susan.

Phuong said civets previously ate chicken but in 2005, when two civets died of H5N1, chicken was struck from the civets’ menu.

As scientists don’t know clearly how the civets became infected with H5N1, experts boil beef before feeding it to them. Civets are sensitive to diseases, not only H5N1. One civet here died of Japanese hepatitis.

Though different species of animals are bred in different areas, afraid of the spread of H5N1 from civet cages, all areas were sterilised. All care-takers must wear protective costumes and specialised glasses when they take care of animals. After leaving cages, they have to decontaminate themselves.

Thanks to effective protection measures, all remaining civets are very healthy.

Five provinces with bird flu

In a meeting of the National Steering Board for Bird Flu Control on March 25, representatives of two of 11 working groups who returned from provinces with bird flu presented their reports about the situations in the locations they inspected.

According to Nguyen Thanh Son, Vice Head of the Animal Husbandry Agency under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, some provinces like Thai Binh, Ha Nam and Ninh Binh don’t properly control poultry hatching and perform anti-bird flu activities.

Other working groups will finish their survey trips on March 30 and report to the National Steering Board for Bird Flu Control. The board will then report the general situation to the government.

By March 25, Hanoi hadn’t detected any new site with bird flu for 21 consecutive days. At present, there are five provinces with bird flu: Quang Tri, Soc Trang, Quang Binh, Quang Nam and Ca Mau.

Meanwhile, foot and mouth disease in cattle has been reported in the central province of Ha Tinh.

Further Reading

- You can visit the Avian Flu page by clicking here.
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