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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Bird flu threatens Norway’s wildlife

Norway’s northern regions of Finnmark and Troms are battling the largest outbreak of bird flu ever seen in the country. More than 10,000 dead birds, mostly seagulls and the protected kittiwake, have been found in the Vadsø area alone and the virus was also found in a young dead fox in Tromsø.

Northern Norway is known for its seabirds, like here on the island of Hornøya off Vardø, but now they’re threatened by the largest outbreak of bird flu ever. PHOTO: NewsinEnglish.no/Morten Møst

On Monday Civil Defense troops were called in to help collect and dispose of dead birds found along the coast and farther inland. Local officials have been sending out calls for help for weeks, and Agriculture Minister Sandra Borch of the Center Party responded on Tuesday with plans to visit the Vadsø area on Thursday.

“This situation demands attention also at the national level,” Vadsø Mayor Wenche Pedersen of the Labour Party wrote in a letter to Borch on Monday. “We therefore repeat our invitation to come to Vadsø to see this wildlife tragedy that’s unfolding here.”

Pedersen was clearly frustrated by her own Labour-Center government for failing to offer more help earlier. Local officials are having to use major resources to clean up and try to prevent the spread of the virus. “A small municipality can’t take the responsibility alone when such a major challenge confronts us,” Pedersen wrote.

Kittiwake often perch and nest in colonies on buildings, making them vulnerable to infection. PHOTO: NewsinEnglish.no/Nina Berglund

One restaurant in Vadsø had to close because of all the dead birds lying around outside it. Food safety authorities at the state agency Mattilsynet, for which Borch’s agriculture ministry is responsible, ranks the outbreak of bird flu as the largest ever, while other researchers equate it to a pandemic.

“It’s of course very serious for all the birds that are dying, but especially the threatened species like the krykkjer (kittiwake),” the agency’s managing director Ingunn Midttun Godal told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). She was referring to the species that often nests in large colonies, perched on either cliffs or the window ledges and roofs of buildings.

Mattilsynet has been working with the state veterinary institute, the state environmental agency Miljødirektoratet, the public health institute FHI and nature research agency NINA, among others, to hinder the spread of the virus that literally flew into Finnmark but has also been detected in Troms, farther to the west.

NRK reported on Monday that a fox pup found dead in Tromsø was found to be infected with the bird flu virus. It was the third case of such infection that can spread when animals eat dead or sick birds. Residents were being warned to keep their own pets away from any dead birds, and take caution themselves by leaving dying birds in peace, staying away from cadavers and reporting them to local authorities for retrieval. Mattilsynet posted instructions and reporting forms to fill out on its website (external link). In some cases, sick birds have reportedly landed on residential lawns and even balconies, and then fallen over and died.

NewsinEnglish.no/Nina Berglund

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