Goose hunting in times of avian influenza

·3 min read
Two young Cree hunters in May of 2018, during the annual Goose Break holiday observed in Quebec Cree communities. The Cree health board is asking hunters to be on the lookout for signs of avian influenza. There are now several confirmed cases in wild and non-wild bird populations in the South across the country.  (Submitted by Roger Orr - image credit)
Two young Cree hunters in May of 2018, during the annual Goose Break holiday observed in Quebec Cree communities. The Cree health board is asking hunters to be on the lookout for signs of avian influenza. There are now several confirmed cases in wild and non-wild bird populations in the South across the country. (Submitted by Roger Orr - image credit)

Officials at the Cree health board are asking hunters to keep an eye out for avian influenza as they head out for the annual Goose Break holiday, while also spreading a message that there have been no signs of the disease so far in Cree territory.

Three cases of the highly contagious H5N1 disease, which is often called bird-flu, have been confirmed in the wild bird population in the Montérégie region, south of Montreal and two more cases identified in the non-wild populations in the Eastern Townships, southeast of Montreal.

"There is no evidence right now of any geese that have been infected in Eeyou Istchee and we haven't had any news from our hunters that go hunting down south," said George L. Diamond, a Planning, Programming and Research Officer with the Healthy and Safe Communities department of Cree Public Health.

Eeyou Istchee is the traditional name of the Cree territory in Quebec.

No evidence right now of any geese that have been infected in Eeyou Istchee. -George L. Diamond, Cree Public Health

But with confirmed cases ticking upwards across the country, particularly in agricultural operations, officials across Canada are increasingly concerned that avian influenza will have a devastating impact on bird populations, both non-wild and wild.

Dozens of cases across the country

Avian influenza can be deadly for birds and dozens of cases have now been confirmed in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as Quebec.

Diamond says it's important for Cree hunters to be vigilant to help slow the spread.

The Cree health board has added information about avian influenza on its website, as many Cree are heading out to their traditional camps to hunt the geese returning to the territory.

Susan Bell/ CBC North
Susan Bell/ CBC North

Diamond says signs a bird is infected include weight loss and a clear or cloudy discharge through eyes, nose, beak or posterior.

In live birds, signs include nervousness, tremor or lack of coordination; swelling around the head; neck or eyes; a lack of movement; coughing or diarrhea.

Diamond says if a hunter suspects a bird is infected, he or she shouldn't handle the goose with their bare hands and should cover it to protect other animals.

"The first thing they should do is leave it alone … they shouldn't touch the goose," said Diamond.

Cree health is also asking hunters to notify their local Cree Trappers Association. The Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs is also asking hunters to report possible cases to 1-877 346-6763.

Little risk for people

According to the federal government website, there have been no human cases of disease resulting from exposure to wild birds in North America.

And while avian influenza isn't believed to pose a risk for people, Diamond advises not to eat the meat if there are clear signs the bird is infected.

Our hunters ... know what a healthy bird looks like. - George L. Diamond, Cree Public Health

"Our hunters have a vast knowledge on a healthy bird. They know what a healthy bird looks like. If a goose has the symptoms of avian flu … people shouldn't eat it," said Diamond.

Southern hunt

Increasing numbers of Cree hunters head south to hunt geese in parts of eastern Ontario and southern Quebec. Diamond said there have been no reports of Cree hunters killing infected birds

Several cases of avian influenza have been reported in Ontario, including at least one confirmation of an infected goose in the Ottawa area.

Diamond went on to say that the message from Cree health is to go out and enjoy the annual spring goose hunt.

"I encourage people to go out and do their spring hunt and enjoy their time out on the land. We are giving you all these precautions … to minimize the spread of avian flu because we don't want it to spread," said Diamond.

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