News Health/Medical South Georgia: Penguin Population Faces Bird Flu Threat

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South Georgia: Penguin Population Faces Bird Flu Threat

By Jonathan Amos, Science Correspondent

Published on March 12, 2024

Penguins on South Georgia


Bird flu has been confirmed in 10 penguins on South Georgia, a remote sub-Antarctic island known for its spectacular wildlife aggregations. Avian influenza had already affected other seabirds and mammals on this British Overseas Territory, but now gentoo and king penguins have also fallen victim.

The Impact on Penguin Populations

The breeding season is drawing to a close, limiting immediate impacts. However, concern arises for the next season when wildlife gathers en masse. South Georgia's beaches witness millions of penguins courting, mating, and raising their young.

Unique Wildlife Concentrations

Dr. Norman Ratcliffe, a bird ecologist from the British Antarctic Survey, likens South Georgia to the Alps with Serengeti-style wildlife. The coast hosts multiple species of penguins, albatrosses, and seals. If bird flu spreads extensively, it could have global conservation implications.

Understanding Avian Influenza

High Pathogenicity Avian Influenza (HPAI) has caused bird deaths worldwide. Although Antarctica and its outlying islands have been spared due to their remoteness, South Georgia is now affected. The virus was first identified in scavenging seabirds and has since spread to seals and other bird species.

Monitoring and Conservation

Scientists remain vigilant for signs of bird flu. The cases in penguins were confirmed through laboratory testing. The virus likely arrived via skua birds, which scavenge and prey on eggs and chicks within penguin colonies.

While the situation is currently somewhat limited, ongoing monitoring is crucial to protect South Georgia's unique wildlife.

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