COMMENTARY: Immolation of more exotic birds in the Phiilppines: hardly a cause for national pride

The Authorities may be justifiably proud of their record to keep the Philippines free of "bird flu;" however, serious scientific and ethical questions remain as to whether the mass slaughter of such birds plays any useful role in such preventive measures.  Firstly, it should be underscored that parrots rarely if ever spontaneously contract the H5N1-strain of  Highly PathogenicAvian Influenza (HPAI). In fact, a well-documented case has never been reported, as reviewed in Metz, S. , "Parrots and Avian Influenza : Consequences for Wild and Companion Psittacines," Parrots Magazine, January, 2006.

Second, even if parrots and other exotic birds did on occasion contract HPAI, simple and available tests exist to look definitively for that possibility. The news reports indicate that "NBI operatives raided the property along Sagittarius Street in Navarro Subdivision Sunday after months of surveillance" (italics mine). Therefore, there was more than adequate time to have proper test kits available in advance. Were these birds tested for HPAI before they were slaughtered?  Perhaps  officials of PAWB and Excel Hernandez of the NBI will answer that simple question . In fact, the Sun.Star reported that " Hernandez said the birds and other creatures were turned over to Department of Agriculture (DA) instead of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB)."  Why was this? Shouldn't the fate of legally protected (or unprotected) wildlife logically be decided by the wildlife bureau?  The MindaNews partially answers this question when it wrote that "a PAWB official who asked not to be quoted said the threat of bird flu infection prompted them to quickly burn the stock." I can understand why  he/she asked to remain anonymous!– these actions demonstrated abrogation of PAWB's ethical and scientific responsibility to intelligent creatures and endangered wildlife, in favor of an expeditious quick fix." True, these are "only" Indonesian birds; one doubts that the endangered Philippine cockatoo or eagle would have been so unceremoniously and perhaps unnecessarily,dispatched.

Parenthetically, a crocodile and kangaroo mouse (among other animals) were also put down. Do these species contract HPAI?

Thirdly, if one is going to kill these birds, one cannot imagine a more inhumane, brutal and uncivilized way to do it than burning. Were these birds anesthetized before slaughter? If not, this violates the veterinary code of most civilized countries–no wonder the PAWB official didn't want to be named or quoted.  Many of these birds, such as cockatoos and parrots, are extremely intelligent–they are sentient, they feel pain and are capable of suffering. They merit a fate better than burning .In fact, the very immolation of these birds sets back conservation efforts predicated on changing attitudes about the value of wildlife–since the government treated these birds as poorly or even worse than do smugglers.

However, it appears that involved officials do not know or care much about such niceties. Indeed,  scientific knowledge seems to be lacking from these  news reports, which list among the birds killed: an Eclectic parrot (perhaps they mean Eclectus); a "Read headed lorry" (presumably they mean "Red" and "lory"); a "Black Cut Lory" (presumably a Black-capped lory), and an "expensive"  Palm cockatoo (cost is immaterial; the fact is, the Palm cockatoo is on Appendix 1 of the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species and so is supposedly internationally protected).

While we recognize that it is critical to protect the citizens of the Philippines from HPAI, the cause of bio-security is never furthered by hasty decision-making, and mere expediency. These birds could have been quarantined and tested, and if not infected, perhaps could have been repatriated to Indonesia to a wildlife rehabilitation center. Even some other countries (such as Taiwan) which used to terminate all such birds, has publicly stated that they will now test the birds first, having previously killed a number of cockatoos whose tests returned as negative only a few hours thereafter. And quarantine with testing is the norm in the U.K., U.S., and other countries.

As so many wildlife experts have stated previously, perhaps officials should be waging war on "bird flu," not a senseless, indiscriminate, inhumane war on all " birds." (Steward Metz, MD, is director of the Indonesian Parrot Project/PBW and Konservasi Kakatua, Indonesia). He can be reached at [email protected]; [email protected])