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INDIA - Chilika Lake and Koothankulam

In December 2008 and January 2009, an international team from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) EMPRES Wildlife Unit, the US Geological Survey the Indian Ministry of Agriculture, the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests, Wetlands International and the Bombay Natural History Society initiated a study of the disease ecology of several waterfowl species in India. These species included Garganey (Anas querquedula), Common Teal (Anas crecca), Eurasian Wigeon (Anas penelope), Gadwall (Anas strepera), Northern Shovelor (Anas clypeata), Northern Pintail (Anas acuta) and Ruddy Shelduck (Tadorna ferruginea).

Birds were captured at two sites, including Chilika Lake Reserve in Orissa. Chilka is the largest brackish water lake in India and one of the most important waterfowl habits in India with a winter bird population close to 8 million birds. The second site was the Koonthankulam Bird Reserve in Tamal Natu. This reserve is located near a river-fed freshwater tank in an agricultural area with a large amount of rice cultivation. Both sites are Ramsar List sites of international importance and are located on the Central Asian flyway. These wetlands are wintering sites for a large variety of migratory waterfowl and shorebirds including many endangered and threatened species.

The objectives of this research were to capture and sample bar-headed geese and other waterfowl species within India for avian influenza viruses and other pathogens and to mark birds with satellite transmitters to document habitat use and migration patterns. This collaborative effort will provide insights into the role of migratory wild birds with wintering locations in India in the epidemiology and possible dissemination of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza H5N1 (HPAI).

This work facilitated an additional project conducted in cooperation with the University of Wales Bangor the support of the Max Planck Institute for Migration, Germany and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, UK  examining the flight performance and physiology of Bar-headed Geese (Anser indicus) over migratory routes.

To study their migratory routes 72 ducks and geese were marked with satellite transmitters. Additional captured birds of various species from passerines to waders were also sampled for the AI and other viruses then released. Samples are currently being analyzed at the High Security Animal Disease Laboratory in Bhopal.

In understanding the disease status, the movement of these birds and the relationship to avian influenza outbreaks in India and along the Central Asian flyway, we hope to better understand the ecology of HPAI and the role wild birds play in the spread of the disease. Previous telemetry studies have shown that Bar-headed Geese wintering in India travel from breeding grounds in Mongolia stopping in several countries that have been affected by avian influenza outbreaks. This project, utilizing telemetry data, hopes to examine both the spatial and temporal relationship of these birds passage through areas and avian influenza outbreaks to further advance our knowledge on the role that migratory birds play in the ecology of avian influenza.

Current locations of these birds are available at the USGS website.

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