Budgerigar fanciers in crisis after mystery virus sweeps UK

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BUdgerigar fanciers all over Britain are facing a crisis after a mysterious virus left hundreds of birds dead.

Yesterday the Budgerigar Society advised its members to stop trading birds and cancel shows. The decision was made after one breeder in Middlesbrough lost his entire collection of more than 200 budgerigars, a stock he had built up over several years.

One senior figure within budgerigar circles said the mounting fear among fanciers was similar to that felt by farmers afraid their animals would be struck down during the foot-and-mouth epidemic.

There have been unconfirmed reports of outbreaks in Teesside, Humberside, East Anglia, West Midlands and the West Country.

"This is a problem that has never occurred before in our history," said David Whittaker, general secretary of the Budgerigar Society. "We have had to ask members to stop showing birds and to stop people moving their birds around until we can identify this virus."

There was no known cure for the condition and experts did not know how it was transmitted, he said, adding: "It could be an existing virus which has mutated. Work is carrying on at the moment and as soon as we know we will post it on our website." Mr Whittaker asked people to check the website, www.budgerigarsociety.com.

He appealed for fanciers to share information and not to try to hide if they believed their birds might be affected.

"Only by working together, and fanciers admitting they have a problem, will the society be able to address the situation properly. Anyone making contact can be reassured that their situation will be treated with the strictest confidence."

Roy Cooke, secretary of the Northern Budgerigar Society, said the disease was similar to influenza. He added: "It is scary because it is a bit like foot-and-mouth disease, you don't know when it is going to strike. It is something that has come out of the blue and it can mean a lifetime's work is thrown away."