[The Hunstanton SEA LIFE Sanctuary]

No Flu jabs for Penguins

Hunstanton SEA LIFE Sanctuary is unable to protect its resident penguins against avian flu…even though those at a sister attraction in Belgium were vaccinated last week.

Staff are angry and frustrated that no protective vaccine is yet available to wildlife attractions in the UK.

´While we recognise that the danger to our birds is probably minimal, it seems ludicrous to us that vaccines are available in other EU countries but not here,´ said displays supervisor Kieran Copeland.

´Having looked after our penguins day in, day out for several years now they are like family, and naturally we want to make them as safe as possible from this deadly flu virus that seems to be getting closer every day.´

Whereas the Belgian government has made vaccines available, the UK Government has only just decided to order vaccines so that they are available if the risk increases.

The Government argues in respect of wildlife attractions that the epidemic ´has not reached a level at which we would recommend to Ministers that vaccine be used.´

Penguins at Hunstanton´s sister attractions in Weymouth and Scarborough are in a similar position, which prompted SEA LIFE´s senior biologist Rob Hicks to appeal direct to Environment Minister Margaret Beckett.

´What makes the situation so ridiculous is that there can be a six week delay after vaccination before it becomes effective,´ said Rob.

″Given the proximity of the outbreaks in Northern Europe we might already be too late,´ he added, ´but certainly every day we delay vaccination from here on increases the risk substantially.´

The Government´s advice has been to carry out risk assessments to determine how likely it is the penguins could come into contact with infected wild birds.

´We had already done this some time ago, and in fact there is very little risk of the penguins at any of our SEA LIFE attractions coming into contact with infected birds,´ said Rob.

´The main carriers seem to be water fowl, and the only wild birds that encroach into our penguin enclosures are the occasional seagulls.´

´We will nevertheless be putting up netting to keep the gulls out, but we still feel it makes sense to alleviate the risk altogether with effective vaccinations.´

´Humboldt penguins are an endangered species in the wild, which makes it even more critical that we afford captive colonies like these the best protection available.´

For more details contact: Nigel Croasdale or Tina Houchin on 01485 533576

Press Release date: 28th February 2006

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Hunstanton SEA LIFE Sanctuary / hunstanton@sealsanctuary.co.uk