Endangered South African cormorants dying from bird flu

Bird with black feathers, blue eyes and orange chin swims in dark blue water
Cape Cormorant, photo: Leopardinatree via Canva

South Africa’s endangered Cape cormorants are dying from bird flu. Five percent of the world’s remaining population has died, a conservation group said Wednesday.

“We know that we have over 12,000 dead cormorants so far, which is most likely underreported,” said Katta Ludynia, research manager for the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds.

Every day, about 500 Cape cormorants die from avian influenza, but not all beaches are monitored and some dead birds may have washed out to sea, Ludynia said. The deaths include many chicks, as this is the breeding season.

There are only 234,000 adult Cape cormorants left in the wild, and they live along the coast from South Africa to Angola.

The bird flu outbreak comes as cormorants are already under pressure from declining fish stocks, especially sardines. “There is very high commercial fishing pressure on sardines,” Ludynia said. Lack of food may have weakened their defences, helping to account for the high death toll.

Early this year, hundreds of cormorant chicks were abandoned in a shocking incident that conservationists said may have been caused by hunger.

Bird flu cannot be treated in cormorants. Ludynia said the only solution to stop the spread is to remove the carcasses quickly and kill birds that show symptoms before they can spread it further.

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