Goose hunters in Nunavut asked to report odd bird behaviour in case it's avian flu

·2 min read
Scientists are asking hunters in Nunavut to report any sick birds they see after hundreds of snow geese who had avian flu symptoms were found dead last month in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The birds are known to fly and nest in the territory. (Maryse Zeidler/CBC - image credit)
Scientists are asking hunters in Nunavut to report any sick birds they see after hundreds of snow geese who had avian flu symptoms were found dead last month in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The birds are known to fly and nest in the territory. (Maryse Zeidler/CBC - image credit)

The current strain of avian flu that's circulating in Canada hasn't reached Nunavut yet, but scientists want hunters in the territory to report any sick birds they see.

Jennifer Provencher, a research scientist with Environment Canada, said this year's strain is a new one that they're still trying to understand. It doesn't infect as many humans as some previous strains have, but it's having a worse impact on birds.

Hunters are out at this time of year harvesting geese and other birds. If they come across a sick bird, Provencher said they should report it to their conservation officer so Environment Canada can track the illness.

"We have snow geese that we know were symptomatic and dying south in Saskatchewan [and] Manitoba, and we know that those birds do fly north and nest in Nunavut and other places," Provencher explained, referencing hundreds of snow geese that were found dead last month along the Trans-Canada Highway in Saskatchewan.

"What we're really hoping to do is work with communities and have people on the land having their eyes and ears open, looking for anything that looks unusual," she said.

Provencher said the infection often has neurological effects — sick birds might have trouble flying or walking, or might be easily approached. Birds found dead can be a sign, too.

"This is something we're learning about as we go," she said. "As people report, we'll understand more about what species are affected [and] what the geographic spread is."

Jordan Konek/CBC
Jordan Konek/CBC

Jimmy Akavak, who is with the Amaruq Hunters and Trappers Association in Iqaluit, told CBC News there are usually obvious signs when an animal is sick. He suggested hunters follow normal food safety measures when they're harvesting geese.

"Hunters should wear gloves when they're preparing and cutting up geese, and pay careful attention to the animal's heart, liver and stomach," he said.

The virus that causes avian flu can't survive high heat, though, meaning birds are still safe to eat, as long as you cook them all the way through.

The avian flu has so far been detected in 10 provinces, the Yukon and areas in the United States. It has killed thousands of northern gannets in Quebec, has appeared to infect foxes on P.E.I., and has made its way to the wild bird population in the Yukon.

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