Mystery virus strikes wildlife at reserve


ABOUT 50 swans are believed to have died at the Lough in Cork city over recent days, with ducks and fish also dying.

The kill has sparked fears over a pollution virus at the lake, which is a nature reserve and is regarded as one of the city’s most striking natural features.

Animal welfare experts at the scene yesterday were awaiting the results of scientific tests on the dead birds.

Lough area resident Annie Hoey said that people began to notice deaths in early June and that the numbers have been increasing ever since.

“Since the beginning of June it has been clear that something is amiss, and it has been getting worse . . . the numbers seem to be well down when compared to a couple of months ago,” she said.

Ms Hoey said it has become a common sight in recent days to see swans floating dead in the water and lying contorted in pain and apparently near death.

“To see majestic creatures like these reduced to that condition is very distressing,” she said.

Ms Hoey said locals were not impressed with Cork City Council’s response.

“The response we got seemed to be one of not knowing . . . no one seems to know who to go to in the event of a problem,” she said.

A council spokesman stressed that city hall said tissue samples had been sent to the Department of Agriculture for testing, and that results were expected within the next day or so.

Expert views differ on what is causing the deaths at the nature reserve.

Irish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals inspector Ted O’Connor suggested that the fish and bird deaths may not be connected. Instead, he suggested that two separate causes may be responsible for the disturbing scenes. “I think the fact that these two things are happening at the same time is a coincidence,” he said. His remark came when at the the Lough, where he and other experts were conducting on-site investigations.

“We’ve been here since last Thursday and it seems to be a virus outbreak that is targeting the birds. We’ve seen this kind of thing before, and it may be something brought in by a foreign bird. As for the fish, we believe asphyxiation through excess carbon dioxide is what is responsible. That would be down to the Lough being overstocked,” he said.

However, Sunbeam Veterinary Clinic vet Joe Kean claimed that botulism may be responsible for all deaths, both fish and fowl.

“We’re looking at a number of possibilities, including botulism, lead poisoning and salmonella. If it is botulism, that would be down to lowering water levels and increased foraging disturbing the sediment at the base of the Lough where the botulism would have been stored,” he said.

Mr Kean added that if botulism is responsible there may be no option but to let the toxin run its course.

“You could clean out the water, but the reality is that the botulism will always be there. If it was disturbed, it would start with the lower tiers and work its way up. If that is the case, there is little we can do but continue to provide support treatment,” he said.