Avian botulism rife in West Auckland

DUCK RESCUE: Glen Eden resident Chris Hilton has been acting as an ‘‘ambulance’’ taking ducks between the Brandon Rd ...
Rose Rees-Owen

DUCK RESCUE: Glen Eden resident Chris Hilton has been acting as an ‘‘ambulance’’ taking ducks between the Brandon Rd stormwater catchment ponds and the bird rescue centre in Green Bay.

The dry summer months are causing a fatal outbreak of avian botulism.

Hundreds of dead or sick ducks, other birds and eels have been found in parks and stagnant water areas in West Auckland.

Manawa Wetlands in New Lynn and stormwater catchment ponds in Glen Eden have been the worst affected, NZ Bird Rescue Charitable Trust manager Lyn Macdonald said.

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Macdonald treated 825 ducks in January at the Green Bay centre and said people are still bringing in sick birds affected by the disease.

Avian botulism is a bacterial toxin that thrives in still, shallow and warm water. It paralyses birds' heads and necks, and slowly spreads to the rest of the body ultimately killing them.

Humans are unable to contract the disease.

Glen Eden resident Chris Hilton has been acting as an "ambulance" going between the Brandon Rd stormwater catchment ponds and the bird rescue trust in Green Bay.

"Imagine the worst case of food poisoning and then that's what having botulism is like," Hilton said.

He said once the birds are paralysed they are prone to drowning or starvation as well as being eaten alive by maggots and other animals.

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The trip to the bird rescue centre has been taking its financial toll on Hilton so after some instructions, he has set up a makeshift clinic to treat the birds himself.

He inserts a tube into the duck's mouth to hydrate the bird and feeds them once they are well enough. So far he has saved four birds and released them back into the wild.

New Lynn resident Helen Reid has also been rescuing ducks from the lower ponds in the Manawa Wetlands and she is frustrated the council is not doing more to help.

"Clearly this is an ongoing problem and requires daily visits from the council to remove these poor wild habitants before the situation gets worse.

"They can still be saved even if they look near death. They are drowning in the water due to paralysis. That is what is killing them as much as the botulism organism."

She has also seen four dead ducks which appear to have been ripped apart by dogs.

Council stormwater manager Craig McIlroy says they do what they can to help. Contractors carry out monthly inspections of all ponds in West Auckland.

"When there are issues related to botulism the inspections are carried out more frequently, on a two-weekly basis and some on a weekly basis," McIlroy said.

He said ducks are removed within 12 hours of someone reporting to the council call centre and sick birds are taken to the bird rescue trust.

Macdonald said, however, she can count the number of times the council has presented a sick bird to the trust this year on her hand and believes inspection should be daily.

She feels it's unfair that it comes down to the public to report dead birds or act as an ambulance to get birds to her.

"When we were Waitakere city there was a person going around and checking all the ponds regularly but now this has become an Auckland city problem. We have a large duck population in West Auckland which the rest of the city doesn't have."

 - Western Leader

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