Over the past 20 years, high pathogenicity avian influenza (HPAI) viruses have been spreading around the world, killing millions of wild birds, as well as poultry, and thousands of wild mammals. With the continued evolution and spread of new variants, the risks of the disease arriving in Australia and causing mass mortality of native birds and mammals are likely to have increased.
Australia has a national response plan focused primarily on the risks to the poultry industry. We urge Australia’s governments to establish a national taskforce to prepare and oversee the implementation of a national response plan for wildlife.
Recommendations in summary:
- The Australian Government commission an expert assessment of the risks of high pathogenicity avian influenza for Australian wild birds and mammals, including threatened species.
- As part of the risk assessment for wildlife, review the potential benefits and risks for wild birds of the vaccination of poultry against avian influenza. Do not permit vaccination if it will increase the disease risks for wildlife.
National wildlife taskforce
- To coordinate a national response to the risks of high pathogenicity avian influenza for wildlife, the Australian Government establish a national taskforce, with membership including environmental and biosecurity agencies from all governments, Wildlife Health Australia, other wildlife and disease experts (including veterinarians), zoo organisations involved in captive breeding and environmental NGOs
National wildlife response plan
- The national wildlife taskforce prepare and oversee the implementation of a national wildlife response plan for avian influenza.
- The national taskforce review measures applied in and experiences with avian influenza outbreaks in overseas bird colonies to learn what was effective, what to avoid and how to optimise recovery afterwards.
- In developing a national response plan for wildlife, the national taskforce consider measures of the following types:
(a) monitoring, reporting and research
(b) regulating human access and activities
(c) removing and disposing of dead birds
(d) rescuing and euthanasing wildlife
(e) response planning for local colonies
(f) keeping humans safe and building public awareness
(g) vaccinating captive-bred colonies of threatened species.
Local response plans
- Australian governments encourage and provide resources for managers of sites with high concentrations of shorebirds, waterbirds or seabirds to prepare local response plans for avian influenza outbreaks in wild birds, guided by advice from the national wildlife taskforce.
- The national wildlife taskforce review the 2023 avian influenza surveillance program and provide advice about supplementary surveillance priorities for wild bird populations, including seabirds. This could be supplemented by surveillance, in cooperation with international partners, along inward migration pathways and in the Southern Ocean.
- The national wildlife taskforce develop a program to encourage surveillance by indigenous rangers, birdwatchers, land managers and researchers, particularly in remote locations.