Update on Dalmatian pelican mass mortality caused by avian influenza at Prespa

Update on Dalmatian pelican mass mortality caused by avian influenza at Prespa

The avian influenza outbreak in the Dalmatian pelican colony of Lesser Prespa Lake shows signs of slowing down, as temperatures rise, still it has led to 1,300 pelican deaths so far.

1,143 carcasses of Dalmatian pelicans were removed from the lake in a demanding operation that lasted one week and has almost been completed. The sight of so many dead pelicans in full breeding plumage is striking and very sad. Yet, at least, there is hope that with the reduction of the viral load on the colony, the spread of infection to other pelicans will be reduced and ultimately cease, along with the warmer weather.

At the same time there are currently around 400 living Dalmatian pelicans in the area that arrived recently and have started nesting, while hundreds more are expected. Great white pelicans will also start arriving in large numbers in the following weeks.

The carcass removal progressed rapidly in the first two days, as the operations initiated with the largest nesting islands with hundreds of dead pelicans on them. The rate was then reduced, as the smaller nesting islands are less accessible and also there were many dead pelicans floating in the lake and inside the reedbeds, which were harder to remove.

The collection and management of the carcasses at Lesser Prespa Lake was coordinated by the Regional Authority of Western Macedonia in collaboration with various bodies including the army and local veterinary services, the Municipality of Prespa, “Pelekanos” the Prespa Agricultural Cooperative of Bean Producers, the Prespa National Park Management Authority and the SPP, under the auspices of the Greek Ministry of Environment.

Concurrently, mass mortality in Dalmatian pelicans has been recorded in ten wetlands of northern and central Greece, with another 300 losses so far, while the first two deaths of great white pelicans were also documented at Kerkini Lake. All four Dalmatian pelican colonies of the eastern sub-population in Greece (Lesser Prespa Lake, Kerkini Lake, Karla Reservoir, Chimaditida Lake) have been affected, while the two colonies of the western sub-population (Amvrakikos wetlands, Messolonghi lagoons) fortunately remain intact.

Τhe outbreak is still in progress and unfortunately the weather is still cold, at least at Prespa, favoring the survival of the AI virus. Thus, it is likely that more pelicans will die, yet the removal of the bulk of the carcasses along with the warmer temperatures expected in the following days, will hopefully diminish the death rate. Nonetheless, we continue to monitor it closely and we will provide updates.

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