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Safety in Recent Culling, But Big Losses Too

The slaughter of chickens and ducks suspected of carrying avian influenza late last month may have helped control the spread of the disease, but for Mil Vattana, who sat forlorn before an empty chicken pen one recent morning, the loss was huge.

Around 300 of his chickens and ducks were culled Dec. 17 near his Kraing Chek village, Kandal province, following the discovery of bird flu in the area’s poultry. More than half of those were prized fighting cocks, worth up to $350 apiece.

“One hundred and sixty-eight fighting cocks cost more than $40,000, and the more than 100 normal chickens and ducks cost around $500,” Mil Vattana, 47, a former soldier and military trainer, said.

Health and agricultural officials ordered the Kandal province culling of more than 450 after one man fell ill with the disease in December and more of the virus was found in birds. The man survived, but his illness renewed concerns of the spread of the virus.

The slaughter affected all aspects of his business, Mil Vattana said, but he added that it was “a good way to prevent the bird flu, because human life is more important than those birds.”

“If I oppose the order to slaughter, I’m afraid the bird flu would affect my wife and my young child, who stay close to the chicken pen,” he said.

The area surrounding Mil Vattana’s commune is filled with underbrush and natural ponds and lakes, which make good habitat for many types of wild birds, which can also carry the virus. At the end of the year, during December, the wild birds often stop near the commune, making them potential vectors for bird flu from local poultry, according to commune veterinarian Dy Soeum.

The H5N1 virus, known as bird flu or avian influenza, is transferred from bird to bird and from bird to human. Health experts are worried that the virus could mutate and begin spreading from human to human, potentially creating a global pandemic.

Near Mil Vattana’s village, officials say around $100,000 has been spent culling birds and distributing a poultry vaccine. People will not be allowed to raise chickens or ducks in the area for six months, in hopes of containing the spread of the disease.

Roth Thida, 73, said her 50 chickens were also killed in the process.

“It is a key way to resolve the whole problem of bird flu, to free the people of my village from the deadly danger,” she said. “I agreed with the veterinarian to kill my chickens, for the protection of the people around my home.”

“My family had good luck,” said Din Rithy, a 29-year-old whose chicken pen was destroyed and 80 chickens killed in the culling. “We lost our money for raising the chickens, but [the culling] provided safety to my family and community.”

Din Rithy said he would continue to raise chickens to support his family after the six month ban. The local veterinarian had sprayed a vaccine around his house and village, he said, “so I think the virus has died.”