Two ministries and a wildlife NGO are working together to conduct research on avian influenza in wild birds in protected areas as well as in domesticated birds in an effort to detect any unknown outbreaks of the virus and promote awareness of the risks posed by avian virus transmission to humans.

The field research and collection of samples is primarily being conducted by Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS Cambodia); the Wildlife and Biodiversity Department under the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries; and the Ministry of Environment’s Freshwater Wetland Department. The laboratory testing of the samples will be handled by the Institut Pasteur du Cambodge (IPC).

WCS country director Ken Serey Rotha told The Post on December 12 that the field research conducted on December 7-8 was also joined by personnel from the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre run by the Forestry Administration, Battambang provincial environment department and Siem Reap provincial Animal Health and Production Office.

The research team recently conducted avian influenza – also known as bird flu – surveillance at Prek Toal in Battambang’s Ek Phnom district. They took samples from both wild birds and domesticated poultry at locations where they were in closer proximity to each other.

The team also collected samples at four other protected areas: Boeung Prek Lapov in Takeo province, Anlong Pring in Kampot province and Boeung Sne in Prey Veng province. All of the samples will be sent to the lab and tested for avian influenza virus.

“The study is part of WCS Cambodia’s plan to document any potential impacts of the virus through sample collection and testing for viruses in wild and domestic birds, especially rare birds. In the past, we did this to a limited degree, but now we are starting to expand the target areas of our conservation work,” he said.

He said that at this point, the team has collected samples but have not yet sent them to the laboratory for testing because they need to organise the samples from the various sites first.

“We take samples from a diverse array of birds, especially rare and endangered species. If we find any unhealthy birds that are nesting or dying, we take a sample from that group. But our goal is to detect any illnesses in the rare and endangered birds,” said Serey Ratha.

He said if the samples analysed in the laboratory are positive for bird flu, the team will inform the public not to hunt or eat the birds because they can transmit the virus to humans.

According to Serey Ratha, samples were taken from rare wild birds such as the giant Ibis and spot-billed pelican and common domestic birds such as chickens and ducks. The study is supported with funding from the US Defence Threat Reduction Agency.