WWF welcomes the Government’s first steps in establishing criteria for the reopening of Mai Po Nature Reserve

Posted 31 March 2006

Whilst WWF welcomes the Government’s Inter-Departmental Action Co-ordinating Committee announcement on 29 March 2006 that they will begin to use the World Organization for Animal Health's 21-days standard for considering the reopening of Mai Po Nature Reserve. However, the Government should also follow other international examples in developing a more detailed set of scientific criteria to determine whether to close the Reserve in the future as a precautionary measure against bird flu.

Mr. Eric Bohm, WWF Hong Kong CEO, said that, “The government should also say how close to Mai Po the case of bird flu should be before they decide to close the Nature Reserve. When the Government decided to close Mai Po on 2 February 2006, all the cases of bird flu were in Sha Tau Kok, Tai Po and Wong Tai Sin, far from the Reserve.”

Dr. Lew Young, WWF Hong Kong Mai Po Reserve Manager, stated that, “In the United Kingdom for example, the UK Government will set up Protection and Surveillance Zones of 3 km and 10 km radius respectively around any sites where an outbreak of bird flu has occurred, and these zones will be in place for 21 days. If there are no further cases of bird flu within that 21 day period, then the restrictions in the zones will be lifted.”

Dr. Lew Young continued saying that, “The Wildfowl and Wetland Trust (WWT), a British environmental NGO that manages nine wetland nature reserves in the U.K. similar to Mai Po, has agreed to temporarily close their reserves if they lie within the 10 km Surveillance Zone. Then if for 21 days there are no further outbreaks, then they will reopen the reserve.”

“The Hong Kong Government should consider these international examples to develop clear guidelines for deciding when to close and reopen public education facilities in case of any cases of bird flu in Hong Kong”, said Mr. Eric Bohm. He went on to state that, “Such clear criteria would not only benefit Mai Po, but also other educational facilities that have been closed because of concern over bird flu, such as the new Wetland Park in Tin Shui Wai, and the aviaries in Ocean Park, Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Gardens, and in the many urban parks.”

Since 10 March 2006, WWF has been urging members of the public to write to the government to establish clear guidelines and a timetable for the reopening of Mai Po, as well as criteria on which to decide when to close Mai Po in future due to bird flu. So far, over 40 such letters from Hong Kong and overseas have been sent to the Government.

Due to the closure of Mai Po, educational visits by some 104 groups of primary and secondary students to the Reserve have had to be cancelled as well as visits by over 600 members of the general public.

For further information, please contact Dr. Lew Young, WWF Hong Kong Mai Po Reserve Manager, at 9627 6520.