GNPD team member capturing a flightless cormorant. Photo by Rashid Cruz

AVIAN INFLUENZA RESPONSE IN THE GALAPAGOS

Following the recent two-year conflict in Northern Ethiopia, large quantities of abandoned waste were identified in the Simien National Park. The Rapid Response Facility (RRF), a UNESCO World Heritage Centre and Fauna and Flora International (FFI) joint initiative providing small grants in emergency situations affecting biodiversity within natural World Heritage sites mobilized US$40,000 to engage communities in a rapid clean-up operation in order to protect the health of the national park.

Following the first case of Avian Influenza in the Galapagos, the RRF has provided US$ 40,000 to support active surveillance of seabird populations, aiming to understand the extent and limit the spread of the potentially devastating virus.

Credit: Rashid Cruz, CDF

The Galapagos archipelago is a world-famous UNESCO Natural World Heritage site, known for its rich diversity of endemic species and as a living showcase for evolution. The islands’ biodiversity is closely linked with the surrounding ocean, making them a vital habitat for seabird populations, including flightless cormorants, albatross and frigate birds.

In mid-September 2023 the first case of H5N1 Avian Influenza was detected in the Galapagos. This strain has already caused the death of thousands of birds on the South American mainland, including boobies, pelicans, frigate birds, penguins and albatross. It has also affected mammals such as otter, dolphins and sea lions. The extent of the infection within the Galapagos is currently not well understood but the virus has the potential to spread rapidly, devastating seabird and mammal populations. The continuing effects of El Niño may also exacerbate the impact of the virus as species face increased stress from temperature, weather pattern and shifts in food availability.

In order to fully understand the extent of the virus, and to inform the introduction of appropriate management interventions to contain its spread, the RRF has provided US$ 40,000 to the Charles Darwin Foundation to carry out surveys of key breeding colonies of Galapagos penguin, albatross and flightless cormorant populations to assess the health of seabird populations and collect samples for laboratory identification of Avian Influenza. Findings will then be shared with the Galapagos National Park Directorate, to inform management interventions, such as potential tourist restrictions and appropriate quarantine measures for specific areas.

Credit: Rashid Cruz, CDF

Posted February 2024

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AVIAN INFLUENZA RESPONSE IN THE GALAPAGOS