Outbreak of avian flu at Cape Town's penguin colony
A group of endangered African penguins walk on a beach at Cape Town's famous Boulders penguin colony, a popular tourist attraction and an important breeding site for African penguins which are suffering an outbreak of avian flu in Cape Town, South Africa, September 22, 2022. REUTERS/Esa Alexander

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) – More penguins have sadly died from avian flu at the colony at Cape Town’s Boulders beach, a popular tourist attraction and an important breeding site in South Africa, raising concerns for the species and for other seabirds.

David Roberts, a clinical veterinarian at the South African Foundation For The Conservation Of Coastal Birds, said at least 28 out of around 3,000 penguins in the colony had died from the disease since the middle of August.

Outbreak of avian flu at Cape Town's penguin colony
Visitors stands at a viewing point at Cape Town’s famous Boulders penguin colony, a popular tourist attraction and an important breeding site for African penguins in Cape Town, South Africa, September 27, 2022. REUTERS/Esa Alexander

“We have confirmed avian influenza in 14 African penguins since the middle of August,” Roberts said, adding that at least another 14 penguins were also affected but not tested for the virus.

“This is a continuation of the outbreak that happened last year and it affects several different species of sea birds and at the moment we are quite concerned because the numbers of penguins that are being affected and dying from the disease is going up,” Roberts added.


Outbreak of avian flu at Cape Town's penguin colony
Veterinarian David Roberts holds an African penguin carcass hours after the bird was euthanized at South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) rehabilitation centre after penguins at Cape Town’s famous Boulders penguin colony, a popular tourist attraction and an important breeding site are suffering an outbreak of avian flu in Cape Town, South Africa, September 20, 2022. REUTERS/Esa Alexander

South African environmental authorities said on Sept. 16 that the strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza was similar to that detected last year among a range of wild seabirds, including Cape cormorants and common terns.

Roberts said scientists were monitoring the situation because it was not clear how the outbreak would evolve.

“Because the virus is contagious between birds, we’re doing everything that we can to reduce the viral load and transmission rate between the penguins,” Alison Kock, marine biologist at South African National Parks, told Reuters.

Outbreak of avian flu at Cape Town's penguin colony
An African penguin is pictured at South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) rehabilitation centre in Cape Town, South Africa, September 20, 2022. REUTERS/Esa Alexander

To identify and remove sick birds from the colony, South African scientists perform tests or diagnose penguins on their symptoms, Roberts said. Sick and dead birds are then euthanised and cremated in attempt to reduce the spread of the disease.

“There is almost no risk to people from the virus but we do ask people to make sure that when they visit the colony that they disinfect their shoes because it is transmissible between different seabird colonies and also poultry farms,” Kock said.

Outbreak of avian flu at Cape Town's penguin colony
Researcher Albert Snyman prepares the scalp of an African penguin carcass before post-mortem analysis at South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) rehabilitation centre after penguins at Cape Town’s famous Boulders penguin colony, a popular tourist attraction and an important breeding site are suffering an outbreak of avian flu in Cape Town, South Africa, September 20, 2022. REUTERS/Esa Alexander

(Reporting by Esa Alexander; Writing by Anait Miridzhanian; Editing by Alison Williams)

WATCH More African Penguins die from Avian Flu at Cape Town’s Boulders Beach