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This course titled Waterbird Capture and Avian Influenza Sampling was held on the 19-23 February, 2007 in Slimbridge, UK and was organised and implemented by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) – Emergency Prevention System for Diseases - Wildlife Unit,  the Agricultural Research Centre for International Development of France (CIRAD) and  Wetlands International (WI) with close collaboration and logistical support provided by The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT).

The aim of the course was to facilitate the development of national wild bird avian influenza surveillance programmes by providing training for international delegates in waterbird capture and marking, and sample collection, storage and transport.

The course was attended by 23 delegates from 15 countries including four delegates from the coordinating and funding organisations i.e. FAO, CIRAD and WI. The 19 trainees were from Mali, Mauritania (two delegates), Niger, Nigeria (two delegates), Sudan, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Turkey (two delegates), Ukraine (two delegates), India and Mongolia (four delegates).

The course was comprised of lectures, practical demonstrations, and presentations from the delegates to provide international context.

Learning objectives for the course were:

  • To instruct course participants in methods of waterbird capture and marking, and sample collection, storage and transport.
  • To undertake practical waterbird capture and marking sessions, including use of traps, swan pipes, and cannon nets, and undertake practical sample collection sessions.
  • To instruct and demonstrate principles and practicalities of personal health and safety.
  • To instruct and demonstrate practicalities of animal welfare.
  • To ensure skills are transferred as successfully as possible through follow-up liaison and continued provision of advice.

During the class sessions technical presentations were made on the global Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza H5N1 (HPAI) situation and descriptions of both WWT and FAO programs in HPAI control and surveillance. Participants were also informed on FAO wildlife activities and results of global surveillance in wildlife to date. Other major topics covered by presentations included basic information on bird migration and ecology, principles of epidemiology and surveillance in wildlife, identification of water birds, census and monitoring of water birds, capture and handling techniques for wild birds, sampling wild birds and assuring good quality field operation and bio-security in the field.

Captive ducks and geese were used for the first handling and skills training session. Thereafter, wild birds were caught and processed. In total, some 90 individual wild birds of 10 species namely Bewick’s Swan (Cygnus bewickii), Mute Swan (Cygnus olor), Greylag Goose (Anser anser), Canada Goose (Branta Canadensis) , Ruddy Shelduck (Tadorna ferruginea,.), Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) , Common Teal (Anas platyrhynchos), Northern Pintail (Anas acuta), Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula) and European Coot (Fulica atra) were caught and processed by delegates.

The primary bird handling skills taught were:

  • Trapping wildfowl using a variety of trapping methods
  • Principles of handling, crating and marking (including ringing) wildfowl
  • Principles of ageing and sexing wildfowl
  • Principles of animal welfare
  • Collecting, storing and transporting avian influenza samples
  • Human health and safety

A special section of the workshop was dedicated to country reports in which each national delegation provided information on wildlife and avian influenza in their respective countries stimulating further discussions and sharing of information.

At the end of the course delegates were asked to provide five needs of their country with respect to establishing and running wild bird avian influenza surveillance programmes. These needs can be broadly summarised as follows:

  1. More surveillance needed
  2. Greater access to catching/trapping equipment
  3. Standardised methodologies in surveillance programmes
  4. Greater capacity for rapid response
  5. Increased capacity and knowledge for all participants in surveillance programmes
  6. Increased communication and coordination between individuals and organisations involved in surveillance programmes
  7. Wider public awareness and understanding
  8. Funding of all aspects of programmes.

This one week course was deemed successful and achieved its objective of facilitating development of national avian influenza surveillance programmes. The practical sessions were deemed the most valuable aspect of the course. Sharing the knowledge and expertise of the delegates and the personnel from the coordinating and funding organisations was seen as a vital part of the course.

  1. Make sure that plans for sampling wild birds exist and are really carried out in national action plans to combat HPAI H5N1.
  2. Continue and strengthen research and studies relating to wild birds, particularly around sites where positive cases have been found in domestic poultry.
  3. Strengthen joint operations between ornithologists, protected area managers, and veterinary personnel, and arrange joint training sessions at national and international levels.
  4. Improve the quality of catching and sampling operations, and the transport of samples, particularity in the maintenance of the cold chain.
  5. Encourage cooperation between governmental and non-governmental organizations (clubs and societies) working with wild birds.
  6. Ensure that the results of surveillance of AI in wild birds are shared, in order to encourage the understanding of the epidemiology.

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