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Harbin on High Alert over Birds' Migrations
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Avian flu may hit northeast China's Heilongjiang Province as migratory birds stop in the province during their annual migration, warned government officials and ornithologists recently.


Millions of birds, which fly from southern China and Southeast Asian and European countries, pass the province on the way to Russia, Mongolia and Japan from the beginning of March until May each year.


It puts the province in considerable danger of possible bird flu outbreaks, say local ornithologists.


"The overall prevention situation is severe this year," said Tao Jin, an official from Heilongjiang Provincial Forestry Department.


He added that the recent bird flu cases in Europe and southern China has put the province on high alert.


"Migratory birds which carry the H5N1 virus have been found to be the culprit of these cases," he said. "These birds will all fly past Heilongjiang on their way."


The province's dense river systems and vast plains make it an ideal place for the birds to take rests during their migrations, he said.


Unlike domestic poultry, which die almost immediately after becoming infected with the virus, migratory birds, especially some waterfowls, can survive for several weeks, which increases the chances of the virus being spread along their migratory routes.


"We are facing a major potential problem, as the migratory birds are huge in number and come from many directions, covering a large area of the province," said Li Xiaomin, an ornithologist from Northeast Forestry University.


"Now is the time when birds tend to get together for migration,


"Once one of the numerous flocks of birds are carrying the virus, the whole migratory route might be ruined by their excretions or drops."


The province is increasing its surveillance strength by adding more observation spots at the places where migratory birds are likely to stop for rests, such as Zhalong and Xingkai Lake, two State-level nature reserves.


Twelve national-level as well as 40 provincial-level observation posts have been established within the province, according to Tao Jin.


Shang Di, a worker from Xingkai Lake Natural Reserve, which saw more than 2 million birds fly past it last year, said they have nine observation spots within the reserve and are adopting a daily report system for any suspicious or abnormal activities of the migratory birds.


If dead birds are found in the reserve, they will be immediately transferred to national laboratories for bird flu in Harbin, the provincial capital, and the area will be blocked, she said.


"We can only do what we can do and keep our fingers crossed for the best," she said.


"Who knows whether there might be a feathered enemy fluttering on the way towards us now?"


(China Daily February 21, 2006)

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