Cape Town – The recent outbreak of the avian flu virus has the racing pigeon industry all aflutter after they were told to keep their birds indoors.

The South African National Pigeon Organisation (Sanpo) said they had decided to heed to recommendations made by the provincial department of agriculture.

Spokesperson for MEC Alan Winde, Bronwynne Jooste, said they recommended that any movement of birds be limited as far as possible.

“Movement must be covered by a movement permit if coming from within 30km of an infected farm. This permit can be obtained from a local state vet. Bird owners should be aware that as soon as their birds travel, they are at increased risk of catching avian influenza and spreading it.”

The department said there had been 13 outbreaks in South Africa since June. These involved seven commercial chicken farms, two groups of backyard chickens, three sets of wild birds and one group of domestic geese.

The H5N8 strain of the disease has already wreaked havoc in the poultry industry in Zimbabwe, where thousands of commercial birds have died or had to be culled.

This strain of the virus has so far shown no sign of being infectious to people.

Sanpo president Fadiel Hendricks said they decided to listen to the recommendation, to protect themselves.

“We have an understanding that you can race, but if something happened and a pigeon gets killed and tested and it’s found to have avian flu in the pigeon, then pigeons from that area will be culled. So for now, there is no racing.”

He said they “found themselves in a disaster especially in the Western Cape” and it was beyond their control.

“We can’t control certain diseases in the wild. It is a fear, but as custodians of the sport we have to listen to what the vets and authorities are saying.”

He said some members were concerned about losing points and their national colours were at stake.

The official vet for the organisation, Ockert Botha, said: “Scientific evidence is clear that currently there is no evidence that avian flu affects domesticated pigeons, or that they play a role in carrying the disease and therefore are a threat to the poultry industry. However, we are being ever vigilant of the importance of the disease.”

Botha said all pigeons in the area would be vaccinated against other viruses.

“We are being proactive about it.”


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