Field & Game Australia

Catch and release

Field & Game Australia members have started trapping and banding wild ducks to help research into avian influenza virus.

Permits exist for three wild duck trapping sites, managed and monitored by FGA volunteers.

Professor Marcel Klaassen, who is conducting research into how the avian influenza virus (AIV) changes in the wild, has already engaged FGA to collect samples from harvested ducks in Victoria.

His research, which is funded by the Australian Research Council and supported in kind by the World Health Organisation, Deakin University and Sydney University, also involves samples from shore birds in Victoria and penguins in Antarctica.

One of his key interests is how the virus responds to different environmental conditions.

“We are interested in the natural evolution of AIV and we study that in wildlife; for that we just need to catch lots of birds and sample them so that over time we can reconstruct how the virus changes and how this is dependent on environmental conditions,” Prof. Klaassen said.

“The good thing about this is it allows us to catch the same individual multiple times and see if they are infected, and when they are infected, if it is the same strain as before. On top of that, we also take blood samples to look at antibodies, which tells us if they have had AIV before.”

The trapped birds are placed immediately in pillow cases to keep them calm before they are taken individually for measuring and sampling.

Each of the birds is banded and it is expected many will be caught multiple times, allowing for samples over time to be compared.

“Some individuals get trap happy; they can get food at these traps, and while they aren’t particularly pleased with me taking samples from them, it is food, so they apparently don’t mind too much.”

Geelong Field & Game president Trent Leen said many of the members trained to take samples from harvested birds had also embraced the live trapping program.

“Every sample Marcel can get is imperative to his research. I know he spent four days in Robe recently and didn’t come back with a single sample. We’re trying to make it as easy as possible for him; we do the work and call him in to take the samples,” he said.

“There is never any shortage of members to help out with feeding the traps and being here on the days when we do the sampling. The quote of the day from one member was that it was the first time he’d ever handled a live duck.”

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