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The first penguins die in Antarctica from bird flu

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Bird flu has reached the ice-covered Antarctica. The Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research (SCAR) reports that at least one king penguin is believed to have died from the disease in the region. If confirmed, it will be the first individual of this species killed by the highly contagious H5N1 virus.

In November 2023, British scientists warned that if bird flu reaches remote populations of Antarctic penguins, we will face “one of the greatest ecological disasters of modern times.” Why? Because penguins form colonies during the breeding season, this means that the H5N1 virus (causing bird flu) can easily spread throughout the population.

The International Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) reported that a suspected case of illness and death due to the H5N1 bird flu strain was recorded on the island of South Georgia in the Antarctic region. It is also suspected that another flightless bird – the gentoo penguin (Pygoscelis papua) – died from this virus in the same place.

Separately, at least one Gentoo penguin was confirmed to have died from H5N1 in the Falkland Islands, which are located about 1,500 kilometers west of South Georgia. Experts from SCAR also reported that more than 20 chicks are either dead or also showing symptoms of the disease caused by the virus. SCAR reports that since H5N1 appeared in Antarctica, there have been mass deaths of animals such as elephant seals. Additionally, an increased number of deaths of seals, gulls and brown skuas have been recorded in this region.

READ ALSO: Bird flu has reached Antarctica

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Bird flu is decimating birds

Previous outbreaks of H5N1 bird flu in South Africa, Chile and Argentina show that penguins are susceptible to the disease. Since it appeared in South America, over 500,000 seabirds have died from it, including penguins, pelicans and guillemots.

– The appearance of the H5N1 virus in Antarctica at the end of last year was a kind of alarm for us that this delicate ecosystem was at risk. And while it’s very sad to hear reports of penguins dying, it’s unfortunately not at all surprising, said Ed Hutchinson, a virologist at the University of Glasgow Center for Virus Research.

Diana Bell, a retired biology professor at the University of East Anglia, said she feared something like this would happen. – I am simply devastated, as is everyone who cares about penguins and Antarctica. Taking into account their social lives, one can only wonder how quickly the virus will spread throughout the colonies, she added.

This disease also affects wildlife populations in the Arctic. In December 2023, it was confirmed that for the first time a polar bear had died from H5N1. As with the penguins, it is possible that more bears have died undetected because they live in remote places with few people.

King penguin

king penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus) is the second largest penguin in the world. The body length with tail is about 90 centimeters. These animals can live in the wild for over 20 years.

King penguins in the Saint Andrew’s Bay area on South Georgia (Shutterstock)Shutterstock

The Guardian, tvnmeteo.pl

Main photo source: Shutterstock

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