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Dead birds found

A number of bird carcasses were found at Soutrivier, Melkbosstrand on Tuesday 11 February amid signs of avian botulism, a natural occurring disease in birds towards the end of summer when water levels drop.

The dead birds, mostly kelp gulls, were collected by a Sanccob volunteer to be assessed.

According to a report from Sanccob, given the geographical distribution of the carcasses, there is a clear relationship between the lagoon and the carcasses, as the carcasses were found along the banks of the lagoon and most carcasses were found down-stream. The age of the carcasses varied from an estimated one to roughly 60 days, with the majority estimated as being dead for less than one week.

“An in-depth site investigation was performed. Specific attention was paid to finding obviously compromised live birds (to bring compromised live birds to Sanccob in Table View for treatment), as well as dead birds, and to collect fresh avian carcasses suitable for post-mortem examination. The river was seemingly stagnant with proliferative growth of algae on the water surface,” Dr David Roberts, a clinical veterinarian at Sanccob, explained.

Roberts said upon inspection, characteristic “stagnant water” odour was obvious from the parking area where the expedition was launched and could be smelled on the beach and dunes. 

He added, “The odour was more pronounced on the southern side of the lagoon. At first glance, the stagnant water in the Soutrivier lagoon was noticeably compromised from an environmental health point of view, which was obvious due to the overgrowth of algae and the pungent odour in the area – signs usually associated with high water concentrations of nitrogen. The water contained little to no sign of macroscopic living organisms, although a full biological or chemical analysis of a water sample was not performed.”

The age and state of the avian carcasses suggest that these birds died in a resting position with no sign of predatory influence, with the exception of one bird that of which only the wings were found, Roberts explained. It is likely that they died acutely due to systemic insult such as toxic or septic shock or after a paralysing disorder such as botulism. 

According to the City’s Mayco member for spatial planning and environment, Marian Nieuwoudt, its investigation found the cause to be avian botulism.

“Avian botulism has a well-documented historical occurrence in the city. Initially birds contract the disease elsewhere and then die where they roost. Unfortunately, the carcasses are fed on by other birds and insects that in turn infect other birds – perpetuating the outbreak quickly. Water quality tests were performed at the site and results do not support that the water itself plays a role in the disease outbreak. We have had reports of avian botulism from sites other than Soutrivier as well,” Nieuwoudt explained. 

Nieuwoudt said there is no human health threat as long as the carcasses are not consumed. 

The disease is however self-limiting and tends to dissipate on its own as seasonal and environmental factors change.

She added, “The City will continue to monitor the situation and liaise with partners to manage sites and the outbreak appropriately. 

“Sanccob and the SPCA are assisting with any birds that are still found alive and in need of treatment.”

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