Monday, June 05, 2006

U.N. wants to put backpacks on migratory birds

Last week's conference in Rome about avian flu resulted in a $6.8 million plan to track migratory birds via satellite telemetry. (The funding, however, remains to be secured.)

Proposed by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the plan "would fill a huge gap in scientific knowledge about where, when and how wild birds associated with HPAI -- principally aquatic and shore birds -- migrate."

"All we have now is a snapshot. We need to see the whole film," says Joseph Domenech, chief veterinary Officer of FAO.

The plan involves capturing thousands of wild birds before they migrate, testing sample birds for disease, and fitting some of them out with tiny backpacks weighing less than 50 grams each. After the birds are released, the sophisticated telemetry equipment inside the packs would track their every movement.

A system of radio beacons and satellites would then feed data into the computers of ornithologists, ecologists, virologists and epidemiologists round the world. ...

Under FAO's plan, the backpacks would show the migrating birds' exact whereabouts when they stop over for rest and recreation on their long journeys. Mobile, ground-based teams would then re-test the sample birds for disease and, in the case of a positive return, have a good idea of where the infection originated and where it might head next.

My questions: Will there be a lot of overlap between future FAO efforts and currently on-going research? Will there be efficient coordination, or will there be unnecessary duplication?

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