The bird flu causes many headaches for animal ambulances. The culling of sick birds, the extra trips and the purchase of special protective equipment cost them a lot of extra money. There are great concerns if the bird flu flares up again: “More money has to be added, and that has to happen nationwide.”
Because the animal shelters of animal protection depend on donations, the extra costs incurred due to bird flu cases are for their own account. Animal ambulances in the Netherlands carry out 70,000 trips every year. Of these, about 11,200 times are turned out for birds at risk of avian flu.
Due to the outbreak of bird flu, the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality paid a hundred thousand euros this year for the purchase of material, the culling of birds and the costs of veterinarians. But because this is spread over 150 animal protection organizations, that amounts to about 440 euros per animal ambulance, which does not cover the extra costs. Animal organizations can receive compensation for bird flu from the municipality or site managers where the birds are found.
The animal ambulance itself covers the rest of the costs by setting up fundraising campaigns and donations made to animal protection. “From this, mouth caps, protective clothing, gloves and disinfectant are purchased,” says Saskia Thijssen of animal ambulance Kennemerland.
Gerrit van Egmond of the animal ambulance Velsen wonders whether the money from the government is going to the right organizations: “Most of the money should go to the animal ambulance and the bird shelter. In addition, the majority of birds infected with bird flu receive euthanasia, which also incurs costs for the vet and the animal ambulance pays for that.”
“When we have transported a bird, you have to disinfect your entire vehicle. As a result, you can no longer use the ambulance, which also leads to more costs”
Den Helder animal ambulance incurs around 2,000 euros in extra costs for clearing and purchasing material. “I wasn’t even aware that you are entitled to support from the government. But I don’t see the cash emptying quickly here either, so luckily we don’t suffer from financial tightness,” says Matthijs Keuris.
According to Van Egmond, the purchase of personal protection is spiraling out of control. Animal ambulances have had much more costs due to bird flu. In Velsen that was 40 percent more: “When we transport a bird, you then have to disinfect your entire vehicle. As a result, you can no longer use the ambulance, which in turn leads to more costs.”
There are fifteen municipalities within Noord-Holland Noord, including Alkmaar and Den Helder, which make a structural contribution to the collection of found animals. The amount of a possible contribution differs per municipality.
Van Egmond says that the municipality of Velsen has also made money available that they can claim if the bird flu flares up again: “We are not using it at the moment because it is relatively quiet with infections. But we have done it before.”
Spokesperson for the municipality of Velsen says that the starting point is that the animal ambulances can continue to do their ‘important’ work: “The animal ambulance in Velsen can declare all extra costs incurred. Think of journeys made, disposable overalls and other things that are necessary,” the spokesperson said. “In addition, it is a necessity that more volunteers come who can commit themselves.”
“Reception and transport must be supported financially. This happens incidentally, but by no means structurally”
Who has to pay?
“More money should be added,” says Van Egmond: “I think that the national government is responsible for this and that it should be arranged nationally. Then it will be the same for everyone. You hear on television that it is important to handle it properly and carefully, but they leave it in the middle. We do not notice it financially.”
The Ministry of VWS tells NH to take bird flu very seriously: “It is important that dead wild birds are cleaned up in places where people and animals can come into contact with infected wild birds.” Nevertheless, VWS says that site managers and site owners are primarily the appropriate party to remove the birds.
Because wild birds do not have an owner, according to animal protection, provinces, municipalities or the national government should take their responsibility in this. “Reception and transport must be supported financially. This happens incidentally, but by no means structurally.”
Van Egmond says he is concerned: “Our work is really underestimated. The contamination must be stopped, so all animals or carcasses must be cleared away before scavengers start eating them and also become infected. That is a really big task for the public health, and more attention needs to be paid to that.”