Insights (Essays)

Insights (Essays) November -0001

Excerpt from "Pandemonium: Bird Flu, Mad Cow Disease, and other Biological Plagues of the 21st Century"

Andrew Nikiforuk

On October 17, 2004, a Thai smuggler wrapped the two small crested eagles from Tibet in cotton cloths. Then he placed each bird into a 60-centimetre (24-inch) wicker tube, making sure the raptors had room to breathe. With the tubes hidden in his hand luggage, the avian transport boarded Eva Airways Flight BR0061 from Bangkok to Vienna, along with 128 other jet-setters.
The smuggler was on a business trip. A Belgium falconer had ordered the birds for $17,000 and the avian entrepreneur had promised to make the delivery in Antwerp. But a random drug check at Zaventern airport in Brussels uncovered the illicit cargo. Given that bird flu had already killed 32 peasants and chicken handlers that year as well as millions of chickens and 83 tigers at Thai zoos, customs officials quarantined the birds and tested them. When both eagles proved positive for H5N1, authorities slaughtered 700 parrots and canaries in quarantine facility. Authorities then tracked down the smuggler (importing diseased species is not a crime) and put him in an isolation ward at the Antwerp University hospital for four days. The veterinarian who tested and killed the infected eagles developed conjunctivitis, a common flu symptom, just two days later. Doctors put his entire family on anti-viral drugs. "We were very, very lucky," admitted Renee Snacken at Belgium's Scientific Institute of Public Health in Brussels. "It could have been a bomb for Europe."

See: Pandemonium


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