VANCOUVER, British Columbia, April 8 (Reuters) - Canada's largest parrot refuge wants to avoid being the victim of a plan to kill an estimated 19 million birds to stop an outbreak of avian influenza, its president said on Thursday.
Officials have ordered bird flocks in the Fraser Valley near Vancouver culled to keep the disease from spreading, but the For the Love of Parrots Rescue Society plans to fight to have its 400 avian residents excluded.
The bird flu has struck 20 farms and six "backyard chicken flocks" near the Abbotsford, British Columbia, refuge since February, but Wendy Huntbatch said there is little evidence the exotic birds can catch or spread the disease.
"We have no problems whatsoever," Huntbatch said.
The society takes in parrots and other exotic pet birds from owners across Canada who cannot care for them. It has about 40 species and the birds are kept in buildings and large outdoor cages that allow them to fly.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency ordered the poultry cull at the request of the commercial chicken industry, but the parrot refuge and other groups -- including an association of racing pigeon owners -- fear they have become unwitting victims.
The agency believes the virus was being spread by people or farm vehicles, such as feed trucks that travel between the farms, although it has not ruled out that wild birds might be part of the problem.
The CFIA is aware the cull order will be emotionally hard on owners of "specialty birds" who consider them as pets, and they will be allowed to present "scientific" reasons why the animals should not be included.
"We are looking at specialty birds one case at a time," said Cornelius Kiley, a CFIA veterinarian.
Kiley said bird species that are less susceptible to the avian flu than are commercial poultry may be exempted. Canadian officials are studying how the Netherlands conducted a similar cull to stop a bird flu outbreak there.
Huntbatch is also worried the CFIA inspectors visiting the flocks are spreading the disease
"They have to prove they are not carrying the disease before I will allow them on my property," she said.
Huntbatch said the parrot society is using the same biosecurity measures the CFIA has ordered for farmers, including applying disinfectant the wheels of all vehicles that visit the property.