The United States (US) government has approved the emergency use of a bird flu vaccine in a bid to protect the critically endangered California condor, following a significant outbreak of the virus among the species, officials announced on Tuesday.
The move comes after at least 13 California condors were found dead from highly pathogenic avian influenza, commonly known as bird flu, near the Arizona-Utah border.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service reported the alarming deaths, which represent a serious threat considering the world population of California condors was estimated to be only 561 at the end of 2022, including 347 free-flying birds and 214 in captivity.
Upon discovering a condor dead from bird flu in March, the US Fish and Wildlife Service called upon the US Department of Agriculture for assistance. The agencies are cooperating to introduce the bird flu vaccine.
Before proceeding with the condor vaccination, a pilot safety study will be carried out on North American vultures, marking the first time the vaccine has been tested on wild birds in the United States, according to Joanna Gilkeson, a spokesperson for the wildlife service.
The California condor, one of the world’s most giant flying birds, is a magnificent creature with a wingspan of up to 9 feet (2.7 meters) and a weight exceeding 20 pounds (9 kg).
The species’ population plummeted to only 22 birds in the 1970s due to illegal hunting, lead poisoning, and pollutants such as the pesticide DDT.
Bird flu has led to the death of hundreds of millions of chickens, ducks, turkeys and other birds globally.