Avian influenza outbreak on Seabirds

23 March 2018


The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), together with all relevant management authorities, is managing seabird colonies and stringent biosecurity measures are being implemented at the various seabird rehabilitation centres, captive institutions and known breeding localities to address the spread of the H5N8 strain of the Avian Influenza that is affecting several seabird species, such as, Swift terns, African Penguins and Cape Gannets, across the country’s coastline. The Swift terns seems to be most affected than many other species.

In an effort to manage the spread of avian influenza, a decision was taken to halt all the research activities involving the handling of seabirds.  This highly pathogenic H5N8 avian influenza is the same strain reported in the poultry industry in 2017. This strain of bird flu has not been found to affect people, as was confirmed through testing of people in contact with infected chickens in South Africa in 2017. However, bird flu viruses can in rare cases cause infections in humans. Thus, strict biosecurity measures should be enforced and precautions should be taken when handling affected seabirds.

 Wild birds are carriers of the disease and are able to carry the disease through flyways. In seabirds, the disease is spread through direct contact between healthy and infected birds.  Most seabird species live in colonies, and may contract the disease from each other, or through indirect contact with contaminated equipment or other materials. The current outbreak adds further pressure to already declining seabird populations. Processes are in place to ensure extended surveillance of infected seabirds.

The Department will exercise even stricter precautions and stringent biosecurity measures during the preparation of the voyage to Marion Island (April 2018).

Members of the public are urged to exercise caution when approaching seabirds, especially found along the beach as well as when visiting seabird colonies. Sick seabirds should be reported to the nearest local veterinarian, conservation authority or to a permitted seabird rehabilitation centres.  

For media enquiries contact:

Zolile Nqayi
Cell: 082 898 6483 /
E-mail: znqayi@environment.gov.za.