CAPE TOWN - A new bird flu was detected on an ostrich farm near Oudtshoorn on Tuesday, Western Cape agriculture MEC Gerrit van Rensburg said.
"The tests indicated that the causative organism is a H7N1 virus. The pathogenicity of this virus is unknown as yet, but samples have been submitted to determine the type," he said.
The source of the infection was also not yet known, but the department had started an "intensive epidemiological investigation".
As a precautionary measure, he had prohibited all movement of ostriches and their products within a three kilometre radius of the outbreak farm.
All ostrich holdings in this zone were being quarantined, sampled and tested for the presence of the flu. The department's planned ostrich auction for Wednesday had also been postponed. The measures would remain in place until further notice.
Van Rensburg said the impact of this latest outbreak on the industry's export hopes would be clearer once the results of the follow-up test were known.
Ostrich producers were strongly recommended to limit the movement of their animals within the vicinity, and to report any sick or dead birds to the state veterinarian.
The Cape Argus reported on Tuesday that the industry had been hard hit by an export ban imposed on South African ostrich meat in April 2011, after an outbreak of avian flu.
To date, 50% of ostrich farmers had left the industry because of the export ban and subsequent job losses. There was also a new threat from thieves, who were plucking feathers from live birds at night.
The Western Cape government's research farm in Oudtshoorn was reportedly one of the main targets.
Researcher Stefan Engelbrecht told the newspaper it was first hit by feather thieves about a month ago, and then again recently.
About 70 birds were plucked and four were bludgeoned to death.