WWF kicks off the Big Bird Race and expresses concern on the government’s inconsistent policy on avian flu

Posted 03 March 2006

WWF will host the 23rd Big Bird Race (BBR) to raise much-needed funds for the Mai Po Nature Reserve on 3 and 4 March 2006. A total of 12 birdwatching teams will compete for the top bird-watching champion by recording as many different bird species as possible within a 24-hour bird race in Hong Kong.

"WWF would like to like to thank the sponsors and teams for their unfailing support to the race. The Big Bird Race is essential to WWF's efforts to raise awareness of Hong Kong's rich bird life, while the donations from the event are crucial contribution towards the management of Mai Po Nature Reserve," said Dr Philip Kwok, President of WWF Hong Kong.

90% of the funds raised from this year's Big Bird Race will be used to carry out regular but important maintenance work within the Reserve. This includes the maintenance of the wetland habitats for wildlife such as mangroves, waterbird roosting sites and freshwater ponds as well as public facilities like birdwatching hides and boardwalks. In the current climate of bird flu, Mai Po is also collaborating with the Microbiology Department of Hong Kong University on a surveillance programme of the migratory waterbirds at Mai Po to see if they are carrying the H5N1 bird flu virus. The remaining 10% of the funds raised will be placed in the newly formed Asian Waterbird Conservation Fund, which will be used to support projects on the conservation of migratory waterbirds and their wetland habitats in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway.

The Big Bird Race is set to happen during a controversial time when dead birds are being discovered in the urban areas in Hong Kong – but none so far, around the wetlands of Mai Po and Inner Deep Bay. WWF has always maintained that it is very unlikely for people to catch the H5N1 bird flu virus from wild birds and the hobby of bird watching, due to the great distances involved. Surveillance of the wild birds at Mai Po by the Department of Microbiology, Hong Kong University has shown that of the more than16,000 samples tested since 2003, not one has yet tested positive for the H5N1 virus.

The government closed Mai Po in early February as a precaution against the spread of the H5N1 virus and the virus has been found in dead wild birds at a variety of urban sites since then. "We would like to know the scientific criteria which the government uses in deciding which areas should be closed and which areas remain open in the interest of protecting members of the public from bird flu. The government needs to implement a consistent policy to effectively deal with the issue," said Dr Lew Young, Mai Po Reserve Manager, WWF Hong Kong.

The closure of Mai Po and the cancellation of birdwatching classes in the urban parks, highlights the government's perception of the danger of catching H5N1 from wild birds when in fact, the risk is very small. In fact, the World Health Organisation has said that almost of cases of human infection has been due to close contact with diseased household flocks.

With a land area of only 1,095 square kilometres, Hong Kong is home to over 420 species of birds – roughly a third of the total number of bird species in the whole of China. All teams will design their own route, which usually cover the birdwatching hotspots such as Long Valley, Tsim Bei Tsui and Tai Po Kau. Teams will also employ different skills such as hearing the owls or nightjar churring during mid-night to record bird species. Participating teams include Junior Police Call Team formed by young birdwatchers. The winning team of last year was the Eagles Team recording 145 species of birds. The total number of bird species spotted last year was 205.

Members of the public are encouraged to make donations in support of this competition in lump sum or per bird species donations to the team(s) they support. For further information, please visit our website at [www.wwf.org.hk].

Participating Teams & Sponsors :

  • The Professionals (Mr. Daniel Bradshaw & Mr. Percy Weatherall)
  • Cathay Pacific All Stars (Cathay Pacific)
  • Mai Po Team (Cheung Kong (Holdings) Ltd.)
  • Kadoorie Cuckoos (CLP Power Hong Kong Ltd.)
  • DHL Team (DHL)
  • Hong Kong Electric JPC Team (Hong Kong Electric Co., Ltd.)
  • Jebsen Eagles ( Jebsen & Co. )
  • JPMorgan Wandering Tattlers ( JPMorgan )
  • Lee Hysan Sparrows ( Lee Hysan Foundation )
  • Swire Birdbrains (The Swire Group Charitable Trust)
  • mfJebsen JNC Falcons (mfJebsen JNC)
  • Sunbirds

The event sponsors include The Bank of East Asia Ltd., Cheung Kong (Holdings) Ltd., Kerry Holdings Ltd., and Modern Terminals. Special thanks are extended to Aigle, Hong Kong Jockey Club, Pentax and Sino Group.

WWF has been working here in Hong Kong since 1981 to ensure a better environment for the present and future generations in Hong Kong through implementing a wide range of focused conservation and environmental education programmes in Hong Kong and Mainland China.

Our conservation objectives are to conserve Hong Kong and China's biodiversity, improve the quality of our environment while motivating people to act to conserve our natural environment. Education is one of our key tools in pursuing our objectives.