x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Community ducks hit by mystery acid blight

Burns and feather loss among injuries treated in survivors of an unidentified chemical that hit waterfowl at The Springs.

Ruth Mason, an Al Barsha Veterinary Clinic nurse, tends to Cheeky, one of three ducks brought into her clinic by a resident of The Springs in Dubai yesterday. On the left is Scraggy.
Ruth Mason, an Al Barsha Veterinary Clinic nurse, tends to Cheeky, one of three ducks brought into her clinic by a resident of The Springs in Dubai yesterday. On the left is Scraggy.

DUBAI // Just over two weeks ago Cheeky, Snow and Scraggy were among the dozens of ducks living happily on the lakes in The Springs community in Dubai. Today, thanks to an unidentified chemical, they are among eight being nursed back to health at a Jumeirah villa by Ruth Mason, a veterinary nurse, after they were brought to Al Barsha Veterinary Clinic suffering from severe acid burns and loss of feathers.

At the time, residents reported seeing dead and dying ducks and other waterfowl being removed from the water and loaded into a lorry. Speculation linking the outbreak to the recent routine cleaning of the lakes has been dismissed by Emaar, the property developer responsible for The Springs. In a statement yesterday, the company denied any deaths had occurred as a result of the agent used to clean the lake.

"No animal fatalities have been observed over the last couple of years due to the application of these algicides," an official said. "Emaar has a robust environment safety policy and stringent measures in place to ensure adequate and timely maintenance of the lakes within its communities, in compliance with all Dubai Municipality requirements." The eight ducks were rushed to the clinic by concerned residents of The Springs over the course of a week after they were found struggling to breathe by the lake.

Ms Mason, 40, said six of the eight birds had arrived in a "critical condition" but were now recovering well in the care of animal shelters across the city and elsewhere. She believes it is unlikely they will be returned to The Springs. "Snow is ready to go to Laura Glanfield's animal sanctuary at Posh Paws, near Sharjah," she said. "Cheeky, one of the white ducks, still has severely inflamed sinuses which look like golf balls on either side of his nostrils."

The third duck, Scraggy, was on the mend after losing most of its feathers. All three, she said, had been near to death when brought to the clinic. The birds were dosed with milk to neutralise the acid, followed by activated charcoal. "They had chemical burns on their undersides and legs, loss of feathers and then, obviously, we have got this one who has infected sinuses, either from feeding on the water or inhaling it," said Ms Mason.

Yesterday the lakes at The Springs were quiet, clean, and duck-free. Emaar said it had temporarily moved the remaining birds to a farm "that can provide protection, care and nutrition" as a "precautionary measure so that comprehensive water tests can be conducted". It insisted the algicide used to remove the algae that grew rapidly during the summer months was "absolutely safe" and had been used for several years with no ill effect on the fish or birds that inhabit the area.

Emaar said initial laboratory analysis had shown that the water at The Springs was not contaminated and no health hazards had been reported. "Currently, the lakes are being closely monitored by the lake maintenance team led by our limnologists, who conduct regular site inspections and treat the water to remove algae that grow due to sunlight and nutrients in the water," the official said. "As per best practice, low doses of algicides are periodically used to reduce the yearly natural growth of algae.

"These algicides are environmentally friendly and used in doses that do not affect fish or birds; additionally, the product cannot be airborne, rendering it absolutely safe." loatway@thenational.ae