Botulism outbreak

Poison lake kills ducks

A majestic ibis aerates the water for his smaller friends, but it wasn’t enough for about 50 birds who succumbed to an outbreak of botulism in Hyde Park. See full story page 3. Photo by David Bell.

HYDE PARK’S birdlife is suffering a botulism outbreak, with more than 50 dead birds collected so far and 20 taken away for intensive care.

Botulism outbreaks are common at this time of year but this has been a bad one at Hyde Park. The bacterium paralyses the birds and in bad cases the muscles used to breathe stop working and the bird dies. Even in milder cases they become unable to hold their heads up out of water and can still drown.

For about three weeks Volunteers from WA Seabird Rescue have been rescuing Hyde Park’s birds to bring them in for nurturing until the toxin wears off. The mud is deep and sticky and the water levels are so low they’re using paddle boards to get to the lakes’ islands on daily patrols. Along with Native ARC they’ve been able to nurse some back to health and release them at Herdsman Lake, because they’d be at risk returning to Hyde Park while the outbreaks are ongoing.

The dead ducks also have to be removed to prevent botulism spreading. 

Some animals are too far gone and have to be euthanised. While the smaller ducks seem most affected, all vertebrates are at risk of botulism poisoning, and an ibis has also had to be euthanised. 

WASR president Halina Burmej says saving the birds takes “round the clock nursing”. 

“With mild breathing difficulties, we can get them through,” Dr Burmej says. “It’s very diligent nursing with lots of fluids, and often a dose of charcoal at the beginning to soak up any toxins… we keep the birds warm, we change the bedding every time we deal with them.”

Ducks take a few days to a week to recover, while bigger birds like pelicans take two or three weeks.

Vincent mayor Emma Cole said the council has been working with WASR to rescue and remove the birds and thanked the volunteers for their efforts getting to the harder-to-reach birds. 

“At this time of year, access to the island can be difficult due to the low water levels in the lakes.

“The volunteers have been a great help to the city as they have provided the required expertise and equipment to access the islands and remove the birds.”

The water’s just inches deep in most places, and a lot of the outer area is just thick mud.

“When water levels are low the sediment is easily stirred up when we get rain. This releases the botulism bacteria and can result in an outbreak,” Ms Cole says. “Outbreaks are often an annual occurrence towards the end of summer, but the severity of them varies.” She says the council will work with WASR to learn more about how to prevent future outbreaks.

by DAVID BELL

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