Bird flu spoils duck farmers’ Santa splash in Kerala

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Thiruvananthapuram | Published: November 26, 2014 12:16:11 AM

Santa Claus is likely to miss the spicy Kerala duck roast this time. Virology lab results have confirmed...

Santa Claus is likely to miss the spicy Kerala duck roast this time. Virology lab results have confirmed that the cause of death of about 15,000 ducks in Alappuzha district was H5 avian influenza, commonly known as bird flu.

Over five lakh ducks were reared for Christmas and New Year demand and the epidemic is feared to cause a loss of R25 crore in the December poultry market, according to traders’ rough estimate. The state animal husbandry department pegs the loss a bit lower — at R12.75 crore for farmers in the Kuttanad area.

From R250 per average bird, the market price was counted to escalate to R350 per bird in the pre-Christmas week. “But, with the bird flu around, it would be a miracle if we can get R180 per bird,” TJ Shajimon, a duck-breeder, told FE.

Traders are pessimistic that chicken sale will also be under a cloud as people wouldn’t want to take a risk. Even the modest egg, which has been commanding price highs of R7.30 per egg, is edgy over the market impact of the epidemic in Alappuzha. “The ducks’ symptoms started with loss of sight. Blind ducklings stopped taking food and moving to water bodies and collapsed often when they were barely 85 days old,” says Philomena, a worker of the Kudumbasree self-help women’s group, engaged in poultry rearing.

Following confirmation of H5 avian influenza from the high-security Animal Diseases Laboratory in Bhopal, the Kerala government has sounded a red alert in Alappuzha, Kottayam and Pattanamtitta districts to restrict movement of poultry and allied products. The state is rolling out a plan to cull as many as 1.5 lakh birds to contain the epidemic.

All kinds of birds, including pets, will have to be killed and burnt to death using kerosene, say officials. The government would provide compensation to those affected at the rate of R75 for each chick less than two months old, and R150 for older birds.

Anticipating the possibility of humans getting infected, people in the area have been asked to keep away from places where the culling would take place. There is intense anguish in the farming belt over the sudden culling of the bird population.

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