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Joan Collins ANA IÑIGO, a SEO/Birdlife expert from the Species and Spaces Conservation Area, spoke yesterday of concerns about the possible mass release of exotic birds, which have been sold as pets, which could come about if their owners fear that they might have bird flu. Up to now, and because of the growing alarm over bird flu, a total of 317 new species have been found in natural spaces. Iñigo said she wanted to make it clear that a caged pet or one in an enclosed space “does not have any risk of infection” from the virus because it is not in contact with wild birds and therefore “there is no cause for alarm”. The specialist attributed this supposed reaction of the owners of these birds to the “lack of information which exists in this respect” and added that “there is not as much risk as is thought. No cases of bird flu exist in our country and this should calm us”, she argued. However, she specified that the possible release of these birds could pose “a great risk for the indigenous species” because exotic birds which do not originate in this country “would compete with the indigenous species for food, resources and space”. She added that there was a danger that “they could go as far as erradicating our native species completely”. Asked about the measures taken by Madrid to keep all farm animals in enclosed spaces, Iñigo insisted that this measure is “excessive”. “We are dealing with a disease of animals, not humans”, she said. She also argued that there is more risk of contagion from bird flu via commercial channels than from migratory birds and, because of this, she considers that, at the moment, the measures taken by the community of Madrid are “exaggerated”. As for the increasing number of people who want to get rid of their pets, Iñigo recommended that they approach the Environmental offices of the different autonomous regions, and their local councils to ask what to do, because at the moment, “there is no system in existence for the collection and shelter of non commercial birds”. Because of the bird flu scare, two of the four big poultry producers in the Balearics have decided, for the first time, to insure their production. This is because, in spite of the fact that the policies do not cover this risk, under European Law compensation will only be paid to those companies who have insurance in the case of bird flu affecting their business. What the insurance does cover is the death of the animals through fire, flood, hurricane, lightning, snow, hailstorm, heatwave (through lack of ventilation) and panic (because of overcrowding), according to Agroseguro union of companies.