OMAHA, Neb. (AP) – Zoos across North America are moving their birds indoors and away from people and wildlife as they try to protect them from the highly contagious and potentially deadly bird flu.
Penguins may be the only birds visitors to many zoos can see right now, as they are already kept indoors and usually protected behind glass in their exhibits, making it more difficult to access the Avian Flu.
Nearly 23 million chickens and turkeys have already been killed across the United States to limit the spread of the virus, and zoos are working hard to prevent any of their birds from suffering the same fate. It would be particularly upsetting for zoos to have to kill one of the endangered or threatened species in their care.
“It would be extremely devastating,” said Maria Franke, head of welfare science at the Toronto Zoo, which has fewer than two dozen Loggerhead Shrike songbirds that it breeds in hopes of reintroducing them to the zoo. nature. “We take incredible care and the welfare and well-being of our animals is of the utmost importance. There are a lot of staff who have close ties to the animals they care for here at the zoo.
Toronto Zoo workers are adding roofs to some outdoor bird exhibits and rechecking the enclosures surrounding the mesh to make sure they will keep wild birds out.
Birds excrete the virus through their feces and nasal secretions. Experts say it can be spread through contaminated equipment, clothing, boots and vehicles carrying supplies. Research has shown that small birds sneaking into zoo exhibits or buildings can also spread the flu, and mice can even follow it indoors.
So far, no outbreaks have been reported in zoos, but there have been wild birds found dead that had the flu. For example, a wild duck that died backstage at the Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines, Iowa, after last month’s tornadoes tested positive, zoo spokesman Ryan Bickel said.
Most measures taken by zoos are designed to prevent contact between wild birds and zoo animals. In some places, authorities require employees to put on clean boots and don protective gear before entering birding areas.
When cases of bird flu are found in poultry, authorities order the entire flock to be killed because the virus is so contagious. However, the United States Department of Agriculture has indicated that zoos may be able to avoid this by isolating infected birds and possibly euthanizing a small number of them.
Sarah Woodhouse, director of animal health at the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium in Omaha, said she was optimistic after speaking with state and federal regulators.
“They all agree that ordering us to depopulate a large portion of our collection would be the absolute last ditch effort. So they’re really interested in working with us to see what we can do to make sure we don’t we’re not going to spread disease while being able to take care of our birds and not have to euthanize them,” Woodhouse said.
Among the precautions taken by zoos is that of keeping birds in small groups so that if a case is discovered, only a few are affected. The USDA and state veterinarians would make the final decision on which birds to kill.
“Euthanasia is really the only way to prevent its spread,” said Luis Padilla, vice president of animal collections at the Saint Louis Zoo. “That’s why we’ve put so many of these very proactive measures in place.”
The Pittsburgh National Aviary — the largest in the nation — offers individual health checks for each of its approximately 500 birds. Many already live in large glass enclosures or outdoor habitats where they are not directly exposed to wildlife, said Dr. Pilar Fish, senior director of veterinary medicine and zoological advancement at the aviary.
Kansas City Zoo CEO Sean Putney said he’s heard a few complaints from visitors, but most people seem okay with not seeing certain birds. “I think our guests understand that we have the best interests of the animals in mind when making these decisions, even if they can’t see them,” Putney said.
Officials emphasize that bird flu does not compromise the safety of meat or eggs or pose a significant risk to human health. No infected birds are allowed in the food supply, and proper cooking of poultry and eggs kills bacteria and viruses. No human cases have been found in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Associated Press writers David Pitt contributed to this report from Des Moines, Iowa, Lindsay Whitehurst contributed from Salt Lake City, Julie Watson contributed from San Diego, Chris Grygiel contributed from Seattle, and Tom Tait contributed from Las Vegas .