Flu stricken SA ostrich industry grinds to a halt

Arenhold Hooper’s ostrich family farm in Oudtshoorn, aka ‘the ostrich capital of the world’, is devoid of both birds and visiting tourists after tests showed that a major avian flu outbreak in the region has infected his birds.

As a result, all of Hooper’s 1,500 ostriches have been culled, CNN reports. “We do not have a business at this stage, our business is closed,” says Hooper, whose farm has been empty for eight months now. Hooper – and hundreds of other Oudtshoorn farmers, face tough times after the H5N2 virus was first detected in the region in April — the strain, officials say, does not pose a threat to humans but could mutate and affect poultry.

Hooper says he feels “tremendously frustrated”, adding “it has been a battle of unanswered questions, it has been sleepless nights, it has been staff concerns, it has been financial concerns. We still do not have the green light so the sleepless nights and the frustration still [carry] on.” African authorities have imposed an exports suspension of ostrich products and banned restocking until the entire region is declared virus-free. In total, 41,000 ostriches have been culled.

Wouter Kriel, the spokesman for the Western Cape Provincial Department of Agriculture, fears that the affect on the world’s largest ostrich farming industry will be devastating. “The industry estimates that it is losing more than 100 million rand ($13 million) per month which is very serious,” he told CNN, adding “The situation cannot continue indefinitely and we very urgently need to try and get the industry back on its feet again.” Farmers, however, refuse to give up: “I will not get out of this industry, I will keep fighting until we get birds back on this property and do what we have been doing for more than 100 years,” Hooper says.

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