From: Laura Zuckerman, Reuters
Published December 14, 2006 12:00 AM

Thousands of Ducks Mysteriously Dying in Idaho

SALMON, Idaho -- Officials scrambled Wednesday to determine what has caused the deaths of thousands of mallard ducks in south-central Idaho near the Utah border.

Although wildlife experts are downplaying any links to bird flu, they have sent samples to government labs to test for the deadly H5N1 flu strain, among other pathogens. Officials with the federal Bureau of Homeland Security have been also called in to help with the probe.

"We think the possibility of avian flu is very remote but we're not ruling anything out at this point in time," said Dave Parish, regional supervisor for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. "We want to make sure all the bases are covered."

Wildlife officials are calling the massive die-off alarming, with the number of dead mallards rising from 1,000 Tuesday to more than 2,000 by Wednesday afternoon.

"We've never seen anything like this -- ever," Parrish said.

A hunter alerted state conservation officials after finding a handful of dead ducks along Land Creek Springs, about 150 miles southeast of Boise, Friday.

Officials have posted signs warning hunters and others not to touch or eat the birds until a cause of death has been identified.

Preliminary findings by state veterinarians suggest the mallards succumbed to a bacterial infection, officials said. They said it was unclear why a similar outbreak had never before occurred in Idaho.

On Wednesday, officials outfitted with protective gear were gathering hundreds of mallard carcasses. Wildlife managers said the birds will be incinerated.

The only mallard die-off roughly equivalent in recent years happened in Waterloo, Iowa in 2005, when 500 ducks died from a fungus, according to a report by the U.S. Geological Survey's National Wildlife Health Center.

Source: Reuters

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