The zoo hides birds as avian flu spreads in North America

Omaha, NEB. –
Zoos across North America are moving their birds indoors and away from humans and wildlife as they try to protect them from highly contagious and potentially deadly avian influenza.

Penguins may be the only bird that visitors to many zoos see at the moment, as they are already housed inside and are usually protected behind glass in their exhibits, making bird flu difficult to reach.

About 23 million chickens and turkeys have already died across the United States to limit the spread of the virus, and zoos are working hard to prevent any of their birds from fulfilling the same fate. It would be especially annoying for the zoo to have to kill any one of the endangered or endangered species in their care.

“It would be extremely devastating,” said Maria Frank, the welfare science manager at the Toronto Zoo, which has less than two dozen loggerhead shrike song birds that are breeding in hopes of reintroduction into their wild. “We take amazing care and the welfare and well-being of our animals is paramount. Many of the staff at the zoo have a close relationship with the animals that are cared for here. ”

Toronto Zoo staff are adding roofs to some outdoor bird exhibits and double-checking the surrounding fence to keep it out of the wild.

Birds spread the virus through their droppings and nasal discharge.

Experts say it could be spread through vehicles carrying contaminated equipment, clothing, boots and supplies. Studies have shown that small birds that are trapped in zoo exhibits or buildings can also spread the flu, and that rats can even be tracked inside.

So far, no outbreaks have been reported at the zoos, but flu-infected wild birds have been found dead. For example, a wild duck died behind a curtain at Iowa Blanc Park Zoo after a tornado last month, zoo spokesman Ryan Beckel said.

Most of the steps the zoo is taking are designed to prevent contact between wild birds and zoo animals. In some places, officers want employees to change clean boots and use protective gear before entering the bird area.

When bird flu is found in poultry, officials order the entire flock to be killed because the virus is highly contagious. However, the US 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 Omaha’s Henry Dorley Zoo and Aquarium, said she was optimistic after talking to state and federal regulators.

“They all agree that ordering us to depopulate a large part of our collection is the last resort. So they’re interested in working with us to see what we can do to make sure we’re not spreading the disease and being able to take care of our birds and not euthanize them, “said Woodhouse.

One of the precautions that zoos take is to keep birds in small groups so that no cases are found but only a few are infected. The USDA and state veterinarians will make the final decision on which bird to kill.

“Euthanasia is really the only way to keep it from spreading,” said Luis Padilla, vice president of animal collection at St. Louis Zoo. “So we have a lot of these active steps.”

Pittsburgh’s National Aviary – the largest in the country – is offering separate health checks for each of its nearly 500 birds. Many already live in large glass enclosures or outdoor habitats where they have no direct contact with wildlife, said Dr. Pillar, senior director of aviaries at Fish, Veterinary and Zoological Development.

Kansas City Zoo CEO Shawn Putney said he has heard a few complaints from visitors, but most people seem to be fine with not seeing some birds. “I think our guests understand that it is in the best interests of the animals that we make these decisions, even if they do not see them,” Putin said.

Officials emphasize that bird flu does not endanger the safety of meat or eggs or represents a significant risk to human health. No infected birds are allowed to be fed and if poultry and eggs are cooked properly, bacteria and viruses are killed. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, no cases have been reported in the United States.

Associated Press writer David Pitt contributed to this report from Des Moines, Iowa, Lindsay Whitehurst from Salt Lake City, Julie Watson from San Diego, Chris Grigiel from Seattle, and Tom Tait from Las Vegas.

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