NBGE Chat Transcript, 5/30/2008

Ed Clark, President of the Wildlife Center of Virginia, was the featured guest in a live Web chat about the eaglet, hosted by WVEC-TV. Additional information is available at http://www.wvec.com/cams/eagle.html.

[Webmaster's note: spelling is not corrected]

Begin Chat Session

The next scheduled event is Friday at 1:00 p.m.

All users in this room have been allowed to talk

wvec-moderator: Welcome to the live chat session with Ed Clark, Director of the Wildlife Center of Virginia in Waynesboro.

wvec-moderator: We will be beginning shortly. Feel free to begin submitting your questions.

wvec-moderator: Ed will be answering your questions about the health of the eaglet from Norfolk Botanical Garden, and about the work done at the Wildlife Center of Virginia.

wvec-moderator: Next week, we will hold another live chat session with Stephen Living, wildlife biologist from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

wvec-moderator: Steve will recap the eagles' 2008 season at Norfolk Botanical Garden, and answer your questions about Eagle Cam and other ecological issues.

wvec-moderator: Check the Eagle Cam page on WVEC.com later for the date and time of the next chat session.

wvec-moderator: Welcome to the live chat session with Ed Clark, Director of the Wildlife Center of Virginia in Waynesboro.

wvec-moderator: We will be beginning shortly. Feel free to begin submitting your questions.

wvec-moderator: Ed will be answering your questions about the health of the eaglet from Norfolk Botanical Garden, and about the work done at the Wildlife Center of Virginia.

wvec-moderator: Ed, you can introduce yourself whenever you are ready. I will start sending you questions shortly.

Ed Clark: Hello everyone, I am Ed Clark, President and Co-founder of the Wildlife Center of Virginia. On behalf of our entire team, we are overwhelmed and humbled by the outpouring of interest being shown for this young eagle. I will do my best to answer all of your questions, candidly and honestly, but please don't pay too close attention to my spelling!

Ed Clark: One more thing I should state from the outset is that I am NOT a veterinarian, but will be citing information provided to me by my colleagues who are. Our veterinary team is acknowledged to be among the best in the world, so if I sound smart, they probably deserve credit!

Tina: 1st. Is the severity of this young eaglets reaction to avian pox due to it's age & the rapidness of growth, or is this a new strain of avian pox?

Ed Clark: The biopsy performed by SCWDS was able to confirm AP however, the exact strain was not typed out as this takes much longer to do and traditionally has no bearing on the treatment plan. That said, in our collective experience, we have never seen pox take on this form IN THIS LOCATION. AP often has lesions that resemble the mass on this eaglet however, they almost always come from the featherless re

Ed Clark: gions of the body

Tina: 2bd. What about the parents? Is there a possibility they have this and we have not seen it in them, or can they be carriers?

Ed Clark: There is no evidence the parents are suffering from the disease, though their immune systems may just be fending it off. The virus, like many, is in the environment, and seems to become active when the immune system is weak.....or in this case underdeveloped

Ed Clark: Next question...

Ed Clark: Not seeing any more questions....

cat: Is the eaglet still eaying well and keeping his strength up for treatment?

Ed Clark: I am not seeing additional questions at the moment, but know that many have expressed interest in the Wildlife Center. The Center was founded in 1982 by Ed Clark, Nancy Sheffield (a Licensed Veterinary Technician), and Dr. Stuart and Terry Porter (a vet and technician, respectively) WCV started in a horse barn, but moved to a double-wide mobile home in 1985, then to its current location in 1995.

Ed Clark: Sorry cat.... yes, the bird ate well at its recent feeding and....

Ed Clark: we have started it on pain medication because the growth is still getting larger. We think the bird is comfortable.

annsva: If avian pox is a self limiting virus how long before it normally runs its course, and how long would you expect this growth to continue ?

Ed Clark: The duration of clinical signs depends on the species affected, strain of pox virus, and immunological status of the infected bird. Some birds have recovered in as early as 2-3 weeks whereas in others, the lesions continue to spread until it blinds the birds and they can no longer see to find food. The incubation period (time from first entry into the bird until the onset of clinical signs) varies

jwnix: I'd read of artificial nest for it, and only pictures have been in a box with towels...is there a pseudonest for it somewhere? and is it inear the adult eagles to it can hear them?

Ed Clark: the "nest" is a padded kennel that has been equipped with "pillow" to allow the bird to be in a normal position. Now that we know the bird has a highly infectious disease, it is isolated---however, it would be alone in the wild as well. It has a window through which to see out.

Ed Clark: When we know he is no longer contagious, he may be moved to an enclosure with surrogate parent

rory new york: is avian pox rare or unusual?

Ed Clark: It is not really "rare", but neither is it common. We have seen cases regularly over the years, but never anything as severe and aggressive as this.

BLR: How do you think the eaglet contracted avian pox? The parents appear to be symptom free.

Ed Clark: Well, not having the sniffles does not mean that you might not have a cold virus in your body. Normally our (human) bodies fight off viruses in the environment to which we are exposed daily. The immune system of a young bird was simply not up to fighting it off

mary: how is the baby doing today?

Ed Clark: The baby continues to grow, but there has been a distressing increase in the misalignment of the beak. The baby was reluctant to eat, but after the first bite he was back to his little piggy self

rory new york: where can we donate for our patient?

Ed Clark: GREAT QUESTION!!! go to the Wildlife Center website: www.wildlifecenter.org

Ed Clark: You can make secure online contributions

Ed Clark: Our baby has racked up about $2500 in services so far, not counting the lab test confirming the virus or the MRI

Ed Clark: .....and it has only been a week.

blue_velvet22000: Do you now know the gender of our baby?

Ed Clark: I am saying "he" because his size for his age falls within the averages for male chicks. Females are larger. However, the virus may have slowed growth. For treatment purposes, it does not matter

mary: can we visit the wildlife center sometime in the future and maybe see the eaglet??

Ed Clark: Yes and no.....

Ed Clark: We have open houses for visitors....

Ed Clark: but patients are STRICTLY off limits....especially those with infectious diseases

Ed Clark: it is for the sake and stress level of the animals

kathy: If it had been left in the nest with its parents, would they have likely been also affected by the disease?

Ed Clark: We do not even allow staff into some cages....

Ed Clark: It is impossible to say if the parent would have contracted the disease for sure, but it is certainly a very real possiblity, to say nothing of other eagles in the area. It would not have survived long with this growth, however.

Tina: Hello Mr. Clark...thank you for your time today. My question is...Is the severity of this eaglets reaction to avian pox due to his age or is this a new strain of avian pox?

Ed Clark: We have no reason to suspect a new strain. We think it was "the perfect storm" of location of infection, age (and therefore the low level of immunity) and really rotten luck.

wonering: Since the diagnosis is avian pox, what is the danger that it will spread to other eagles in the Hampton Roads (Tidewater) area?

Ed Clark: The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and the Center for Conservation Biology are currently in discussions with the Mosquito Control Program in the Tidewater area to see if monitoring for this virus is possible. Again, we know the virus is out there, but most birds are healthy enough to fight it off

Eagle Lover: Is the damage cause by the disease reversible with treatment, or is surgery necesary?

Ed Clark: We don't know yet, at least about the curve of the beak. We know that we have to get that growth off the beak...the easy part....and out of the sinus cavity....the really hard part

mARGY: Are his chances for recovery good after treatment?

Ed Clark: We are in touch with veterinary sugeons who specialize in birds to be sure we can get as much of the growth as possible, but the little bird is still in a very precarious place.... If we can get rid of the growth, and the beak is not too deformed, he has a good chance.

trish: This virus is carried by mosquitos?

Ed Clark: As I understand it, we know that it is physically carried by mosquitoes, as opposed to some other kinds of virus carried in the systems of the mosquitoes, but I honestly don't know how easy it is to detect in those vectors. The mosquito basically just carries it from bird to bird, as opposed to being a reservoir....again, as I understand it.

Lefty: It was mentioned about the soft swelling on the roof of the mouth. Has this increased and gotten worse?

Ed Clark: Yes, it has gotten worse. We are now treating this virus using some of the same protocols and drugs used to treat HIV, including interferon. At $500 per bottle, we don't keep it on hand, but the drug arrived today and the treatment has been started. We hope this slows the growth of the lesion

Bee: What type of surgery is contemplated at this time? How extensive will it be (possibe removal of some of the beak)?

Ed Clark: The surgery will be extremely invasive to the side of the beak. What we don't know is the condition of the underlying bone. That is the real question at this point. A lot of people have suggested prosthetics, but that is unlikely to be our first choice, and may not be an option at all if the bone has eroded

bird watcher2: Is the eaglet in any pain or is he suffering in any way?

Ed Clark: No! The bird is comfortable and has actually been started on an anelgesic to control any pain. We have reason to believe that prior to the use of this pain control drug, the bird's beak had become sensitive. Pain is a stressor that can affect immunity so we want to control pain, just like controlling infection

TracyLynn: Whats the probability of nest being infected, and would it affect the next clutch next year

Ed Clark: I'm good to continue another 30 minutes if you like....beyond the hour

Ed Clark: I really don't think that is likely to be the case, even though theoretically it is possible. This virus is in the environment anyway.

Artsy Mom: Is this chick in danger of expiring due to its condition and is it being quarantined to prevent spreading the virus?

Ed Clark: I am taking that as two questions..... Yes, the little bird's life still hangs in the balance. Just because we know what the problem is does not mean it is not still extremely grave. Second, it has been isolated to keep it away from other patients and insulated from stressful activities and noise

Ed Clark: good....let's go until 2:30 or until we run out of questions

Louise: Is it possible that some contaminants are in the area where the chick was born. also what about the possibility of tainted food he has been eating

Ed Clark: You have hit on a point that goes to the larger conservation concerns raised by this case. Yes, it is definitely possible that other pollutants or contaminants have cause this bird to be weak.... We are conducting tests for metals and pesticides now

tweety: Is there any possible connection between avian pox and the behavior of the paretns towards the intruder earlier this season? It seemed to be less agressive than expected.

Ed Clark: I'm not sure we can make that leap of logic. There are lots of reasons for birds to react aggressively or not. I don't know enough about what happened to speculate

kathy: How long can it be kept in captivity before being released into the wild becomes impossible?

Ed Clark: That is not our limiting factor. We have held eagles for more than a year before returning them to the wild.

ostrich: Ed, one news report stated there are some new anti-viral therapies that might be used in this case. Can you elaborate on this at all, as I understood normally the options for directly treating the virus itself are limited (i.e. treatment consists of preventing other complications until the bird's own immune system can ward off the virus)

Ed Clark: We are using what are certainly unusual therapies for veterinary medicine....i.e. interferon, a human drug. We are investigating other things as well. There have been interesting studies showing that echinacea helps with immunity in raptors and we're even using that

HARDCOREEaglelover: Did you get the question about if the eaglet is likely to get more pox on him or if this one is the only one he will have to fight?

Ed Clark: We believe that, like most viruses, the body will develop anti-bodies to defend against future infection, much like people only get chicken-pox one time. I'm not sure that has been tested and proven, but we have no reason to believe otherwise

CatLuver: Untreated, what is the natural progression of AP?

Ed Clark: Untreated, and in "normal" cases, the lesions form much like warts, become inflamed and sometimes cause problems with vision or breathing, but eventually will subside if they do not overwhelm the victim. Eventually, the "warts" and lesions go away and leave only scars. It can take quite a while though.

Chris: Is the avia pox cutaneous or diptheritic

Ed Clark: The test identifying it as pox did not "type" the virus. It makes no difference to us in the treatment protocol whether it is "dry" pox or "wet" pox. Treatment is identical.

tweety: Have any results been released on the two eggs removed from the nest? Were they tested for avian pox?

Ed Clark: I do not know. That question will have to go to the state agency or to the Center for Conservation Biology. We were not involved in that.

christina: When treatment is done and hopefully sucessful will the eaglet be relesaed back in this area?

Ed Clark: It is too soon to speculate, but the release site will likely be determined by where we can find a concentration of other young eagles. They learn a great deal from each other.....and they steal food from each other until they learn to fish on their own. For young birds like this, we often choose the bald eagle refuge on the James River where a very large number of juveniles concentrate.

Ed Clark: We are a long way from planning that event, though

EagleWatcher: is he being watched 24hrs a day

Ed Clark: No, there is no reason to do so. Watching him actually ads stress to the bird. He really just eats, sleeps and poops, so it is not much for spectators at this moment. He is checked regularly, but is not under constant surveillance.

Skipper: If the virus has affected the growth of the eaglet's beak, once the growth is removed, will the beak "fix" itself or will they have to do some kind of reconstructive surgery? If the surgeons have to reconstruct the beak, will the eaglet be released to the wild?

Ed Clark: Great questions, but we can't really answer them yet. If the beak is not too badly deformed, we can correct it somewhat by grinding the tip of the beak to put pressure on the short side...much like an orthodontist does with braces. If it is really bad, something more will be required. We don't know yet

jwnix: Is it in a location where it can at least hear the adult bald eagles in the center? and once you determine no longer contagious, might they share space....and adults could teach him "life skills for eagles"?

Ed Clark: No, the bird is insulated from outside sounds, including eagles. Unlike songbirds who must learn vocalizations, eagles don't really need that. We may move him to a cage with other eagles in the future, but for now, we are working to be sure he even has a future.....

Hardcore Heart: do you have any idea how long chick has been infected then ( or has this already been addressed?)

Ed Clark: We were told the lesion was noticed on day 14, but that means it may have been infected during its first few days of life.

jbcaprine: Is he being fed with an "eagle puppet," to insure that he's not being imprinted by humans?

Ed Clark: This bird is too old for the "imprinting" process at this stage. We are looking for a feeding puppet, but have simply been feeding him "blind"....that is using long tongs and not allowing him to see humans much at all.

joann: Given his age would a surrogate bond with him?

Ed Clark: Yes, probably, but the bonding is less important than the association... We don't need the surrogate to feed this guy, just to hang out and show him "eagle stuff", including appropriate reactions when people enter the cage, and what to do with a fish.

Skipper: I understand that surgery is scheduled in a few days. If the virus is growing rapidly, why was the surgery not performed right away?

Ed Clark: The surgery is not just a matter of lopping off the external growth. There is almost as much growth inside the sinuses as on the outside. We are currently giving anitbiotics and anti-fungals to prepare the bird for surgery, by eliminating the chance of secondary infections. We also needed to build up his weight to withstand the anesthesia for what will undoubtedly be a long procedure

kathy: Do you think environmental factors have perhaps weakened its immune system?

Ed Clark: It is a very real possibility that environmental factors may have contributed to the problem, though we have not identified any specific smoking gun. We are awaiting results for heavy metals and pesticides as we speak.

hardcore jamie: Since he was the 5th egg for our pair, would this have any possible relation to his being sick or prone to sickness?

Ed Clark: No, it is not the "runt" of the clutch. Immunity is usually conveyed to the chicks after they hatch, not before.

bev: I f he cannot be released into the wild will you keep him as and educator bird(what a ambassodor he is already}

Ed Clark: If he cannot be released, we will evaluate his future at that time. I do not want anyone to think that euthanasia is not among the possible outcomes of this case. We are trying desperately to save this little bird and get his back to the wild. If we can't life in captivity is possible. However, we will not condemn him to 30 years of suffering. He will have to have a good quality of life

Ed Clark: That is what makes our jobs so hard.....options

Ed Clark: and lack of options....

dee: Mr Clark, is this little eaglet the most famous you have cared for at the Center today?

Ed Clark: I would have to say that of our 50,000 patients treated, none ever came with a fan club before! It doesn't really affect our decisionmaking, but it does add significance to the outcomes. We want to save the bird, and avoid breaking the hearts of all who care so much about him

Ed Clark: including all of us!

MJ: Is the avian pox linked to West Nile?

Ed Clark: No, not at all.

Bullwinkle is HARDCORE: Has there been any other cases of avian pox that is similar to what WCV is dealing with when it ocmes to the eaglet?

Ed Clark: We have treated avian pox, and variations of it, for many years. However, we have never seen anything like this. It almost grows before our eyes....

HARDCORE TRACY: is it possible to put cam on baby so we can monitor him?

Ed Clark: At this point, we are discussing it, but we have not determined how to do that, or honestly if it really is the best thing for the bird. He is being kept in a very low light environment to keep him sleepy, so a cam is not likely to be very effective. If we get through the surgery and have a prospect of recovery, we might consider it.

Ed Clark: keep in mind we'll admit 500 other patients this month as well!

Message sent to speakers: Here is the last question of the live chat session...

HARDCORE TRACY: Do you think the parents new something was wong with him? Ed Clark: This is the last question. I do not think the parents had any reason to be aware of the problem with the baby. He was eating well and growing normally. Message sent to speakers: Thanks to Ed Clark from the Wildlife Center of Virginia for taking the time to answer some questios about the eaglet today. Ed Clark: Thanks to everyone for joining. We'll talk with WVEC and see if another special chat can be arranged if there is more to tell. Thanks to all of you. wvec-moderator: Thanks to Ed Clark from the Wildlife Center of Virginia for taking the time to answer some questios about the eaglet today. wvec-moderator: Next week, we will hold another live chat session with Stephen Living, wildlife biologist from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. wvec-moderator: Steve will recap the eagles' 2008 season at Norfolk Botanical Garden, and answer your questions about Eagle Cam and other ecological issues. wvec-moderator: Check the Eagle Cam page on WVEC.com later for the date and time of the next chat session.