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HK closes nature reserve after wild heron tests positive for bird flu
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Hong Kong has ordered a local bird reserve closed starting Friday after a wild grey heron was found sick there and tested positive for the H5N1 bird flu virus.

The Mai Po Nature Reserve, located at Lok Ma Chau near Hong Kong's border with the neighboring mainland city of Shenzhen, was "closed starting today until further notice," said a notification posted on the gate of the bird sanctuary Friday.

The grey heron, a migratory species that often visits Hong Kong in winter but is not resident in the southern Chinese territory, was found sick on Dec. 5 at the wetland compensation area of the railway's Lok Ma Chau Spurline and died the next day.

Subsequent tests over the next few days confirmed that the wild bird was infected with H5N1 avian influenza, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) of the Hong Kong SAR government said a statement released late Thursday.

A spokesman for the department said Hong Kong has decided to temporarily close the Mai Po Nature Reserve, which was far from Hong Kong's crowded downtown area.

The move was "a precautionary measure," the spokesman was quoted as saying, adding that there were no chicken farms within 3 kilometers of where the bird was found.

The government has maintained a stringent monitoring regime on wild birds in the nature reserve since the winter of 2002, with feces sample testing included.

"The AFCD will phone poultry farmers reminding them to strengthen precautionary and biosecurity measures against avian influenza," the spokesman said, adding that the government would strengthen health and hygiene education efforts aimed at the general public while carrying on its monitoring program on wild birds and poultry imports.

Hong Kong was struck by bird flu outbreak several years ago but has only had scarce cases of bird infections recently, prompting the special administrative region government to aggressively monitor wild birds activities.

Fearing a bird flu pandemic among human beings, it has also been trying to curb bird flu with programs involving local hospitals and the public, along with concerted efforts by neighboring mainland cities and the central government.

(Xinhua News Agency December 15, 2007)

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