Update on Dalmatian pelican mass mortality caused by avian flu at Prespa and other wetlands

Update on Dalmatian pelican mass mortality caused by avian flu at Prespa and other wetlands

The avian flu continues to kill Dalmatian pelicans (DP) in Prespa, charting a destructive course through the rest of Greece’s pelican colonies too. The situation is unprecedented in terms of its scale and duration and the impact to DPs is devastating. Another 200 DPs were recorded dead in a week’s time at Lesser Prespa Lake and a new operation is now set up to remove the additional carcasses. Already 1,143 have been removed from the Prespa colony, and around 450 remain to be collected. That is a total of about 1,600 losses for Prespa and over 2,000 for the country.

The new operation entails the removal of around 150 carcasses from parts of the Prespa colony, where collection has taken place before, and another 150-200 carcasses from the less approachable parts. For the latter, a challenging operation is prepared and will start early next week. This is a shallow area of open water separated from the lake by extensive marshes, deep peaty soils, and muddy areas. SPP’s multi-functional amphibian machine will play a key role for this task, cutting through reeds to make an entrance and assisting people on boats carrying the carcasses.

Looking at other pelican colonies in Greece, there have been both disturbing and good signs. In Lake Chimaditis which, like Prespa, lies at a high altitude with persisting cold temperatures, the colony looks completely wiped out with another 83 dead DPs recorded this week, following the removal of 98 carcasses in late March. On the other hand, the Kerkini and Karla colonies, both in lowland wetlands with warmer climate, show signs of getting past the crisis, though with significant fatalities. The two colonies of the western sub-population in Greece (Amvrakikos wetlands and Messolonghi lagoons) remain apparently unaffected.

Upsetting news arrived from the sole DP colony of Montenegro, in Lake Skadar, the northernmost colony of the western DP sub-population of the Black Sea/Mediterranean Flyway. Our Montenegrin colleagues yesterday reported at least 15 dead DPs, while the H5N1 strain of avian influenza has been confirmed. In late March, the virus had reached the sole DP colony in Albania, at Divjake-Karavasta. At the same time, both colonies appear to be facing large-scale breeding failure and nest abandonment, caused by constant human disturbance and other unknown factors, according to our colleagues from Albania and Montenegro. A striking reminder that the DP is clearly a conservation-dependent species and with the devastating avian flu outbreak this year, it seems that things have got into a serious state. Finally, the SPP recently received news about a mass mortality event in the Danube Delta DP colony, in Romania, yet there has been no formal announcement up to now.

Warmer and sunnier days are finally on their way to Prespa, and we can only hope that the end of the outbreak is only days ahead. The sense of helplessness and anxiety for the survival of the population is overwhelming, as despite the huge efforts to remove loads of carcasses from the Prespa colony, the mortality rate is still high. Some 300 living DPs are currently at Prespa and another few hundreds of great white pelicans (GWP). Most of the GWPs only arrived in the last days, and thus it’s early to know if they will be affected. Yet, there are around 100 that have been here for more than ten days and fortunately we have not recorded any deaths so far. Being aware, though, of the large numbers of affected GWPs reported in early February from Senegal and Mauritania, and a few months earlier from Israel, we remain very concerned about their fate.

The SPP continues to monitor the phenomenon closely and we will provide further updates.

For further information, you may contact
Giorgos Catsadorakis catsadorakis@spp.gr and
Olga Alexandrou o.alexandrou@spp.gr

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