One king penguin is suspected to have died from chicken flu on South Georgia island within the Antarctic area, Guardian reported. If confirmed, will probably be the primary of the species killed by the extremely contagious H5N1 virus within the wild.
Researchers have expressed considerations concerning the doubtlessly devastating impression of the illness on distant penguin populations highlighting that the present breeding season might permit the virus to unfold quickly and trigger ”one of many largest ecological disasters of recent instances.”
The Antarctic was the one main geographical area wherein excessive pathogenicity avian influenza virus had by no means beforehand been detected. Birds reminiscent of penguins which have by no means earlier than been uncovered to the virus would don’t have any prior immunity, doubtlessly making them extra weak.
King penguins, the second-largest penguin species on the earth, at about 3 ft tall, can dwell for greater than 20 years within the wild. Other than the king penguin, a gentoo penguin additionally died from H5N1 on the similar location. One other gentoo penguin has been confirmed to have died from H5N1 on the Falkland Islands, 900 miles (1,500km) west of South Georgia
Earlier outbreaks in South Africa, Chile, and Argentina have proven that penguins are extremely weak to the illness, as over 500,000 seabirds in South America, together with penguins, pelicans, and boobies have died from it.
Ed Hutchinson, a molecular virologist on the MRC-College of Glasgow Centre for Virus Analysis, stated: ”The arrival of this H5N1 virus within the Antarctic in direction of the top of final yr rang alarm bells due to the danger it posed to wildlife on this fragile ecosystem. And whereas it is extremely unhappy to listen to reviews of penguins dying … it’s sadly under no circumstances stunning.”
Diana Bell, emeritus professor of conservation biology on the College of East Anglia, additionally voiced related fears. She stated, ”I am simply devastated, actually – as will everyone who cares about penguins and the Antarctic … Given their colonial social organisation, you’d simply marvel how rapidly it could undergo the colonies.”
The specter of avian flu provides to the present pressures confronted by pristine polar ecosystems. A examine from 2018 predicted that king penguins in Antarctica might face extinction by the top of this century.
A couple of weeks again, a polar bear also died from H5N1, marking the primary recorded case of this species. The bear was found in Utqiagvik, an space that is been hit exhausting by the present international outbreak. Polar bears are categorized as “weak” on the Worldwide Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) purple checklist of endangered species, primarily on account of the diminishing sea ice.
The virus additionally poses a risk to people, notably these involved with poultry.