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Dead ravens at the dump

West Nile virus not to blame

Kerry McCluskey
Northern News Services

Nanisivik (Aug 12/02) - The old saying, "we are what we eat," had fatal meaning for a group of ravens who feasted recently on garbage at the dump in Nanisivik.

Steve Pinksen, senior adviser on legislation and enforcement for the Department of Sustainable Development, said the wildlife officer in Arctic Bay discovered five dead ravens at Nanisivik's dump at the end of July.

The carcasses were sent for testing to the University of Guelph in Ontario to determine what killed the birds.

Pinksen said it was unlikely the birds died from the West Nile virus.

The virus is making headlines in Southern Canada, where crows -- close relatives of ravens -- are dying from the virus.

Surfacing in Canada in 2001, the often deadly disease is spread to humans when bitten by an infected mosquito, which has acquired the virus from a bird.

Ultimately, the disease kills its victims by causing brain swelling. While it has yet to surface in humans in Canada, several people have died in the U.S. -- most recently in Louisiana -- and health officials here are concerned by its increasing prevalence in bird populations.

"It's more likely they ate something because they all died at the same time. West Nile wouldn't kill five ravens in the same place at the same time," said Pinksen.

"There is absolutely no reason to think this is West Nile. There is every indication it was household waste or some kind of contaminant or cleaner," he said.

However, because the country's labs are swamped with tests for the virus, the ravens from Nanisivik are a low priority. It could take some time before Pinksen gets back results.