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Zoos across the country are taking action to protect their feathered inhabitants from the avian flu epidemic that has claimed the lives of millions of birds.
Nearly 24 million poultry have been infected with ‘highly pathogenic’ flu on commercial and backyard chicken, duck and turkey farms, according to data from the State’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. USDA.
Like other respiratory illnesses, bird flu is transmitted when an infected bird comes into close enough contact to spread the virus through “saliva, nasal secretions, and feces,” reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Extreme cases of avian flu can sometimes result in the death of a bird, which has caused concern among zoos.
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In Ohio, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium takes the time to observe its various bird inhabitants before any move.
- North America: Dr. Bernard Master Aviary and Trumpeter Swans
- In the heart of Africa: Saddle-billed storks and grey-crowned cranes of East Africa
- Asia Quest: Asia Quest aviary and red-crowned cranes
- Shores and Aquarium: Flamingos and Humboldt penguins
- Australia and the Islands: Bird lake, nocturnal construction aviary and Lorikeets
- Congo shipping: African gray parrots and aviary Congo Expedition
“We are currently monitoring a strain of bird flu in wild birds,” a zoo spokesperson wrote in an email to Fox News Digital. “This does not pose a threat to humans. However, out of an abundance of caution for some of the zoo birds in our care, we have temporarily closed some bird habitats while we proactively monitor and assess the situation.”
The Columbus Zoo has closed a number of its bird habitats, so it can keep tabs on its bird residents, which have been separated by “zoo region”.
The following zoo regions are closed with their respective bird exhibits – North America, Heart of Africa, Asia Quest, Shores and Aquarium, Australia and the Islands and Congo Expedition.
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In Missouri, the Kansas City Zoo is taking similar action. The zoo has moved birds from outdoor habitats to “hidden areas” to protect them from potentially infected wild waterfowl, such as ducks and geese.
“Like other zoos and animal care facilities in our region, the Kansas City Zoo is closely monitoring the recent outbreak of Avian Influenza, a viral respiratory disease of birds,” the zoo wrote in a press release. “The virus has now been documented in several states, including Missouri, so the zoo is taking immediate action to protect the birds in our care from this disease.”
Bird species that have been relocated to the 202-acre facility include trumpeter swans, red-crowned cranes, yellow-billed storks, African-crowned cranes, saddle-billed storks and flamingos.
Animal handlers at the Kansas City Zoo will wear personal protective equipment to “mitigate risk to the birds” in their care, as well as veterinary health monitoring.
“Although we don’t have a specific timeline for how long this will last, we hope all the birds will be back in their outdoor habitats this spring,” the zoo concluded.
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The Chicago Zoological Society and Brookfield Zoo in Brookfield, Illinois are also taking steps to protect their bird populations from the outbreak.
“Due to recent cases of avian flu in Illinois, several species of birds at the Brookfield Zoo, including guinea fowl, peacocks, crows and Cape Barren geese, are kept in holding areas in order to minimize the risk of transmission from wild birds to these more susceptible species,” said Dr. Sathya Chinnadurai, senior vice president of animal health and welfare for the Chicago Zoological Society.
He continued, “Our veterinary and animal care staff are closely monitoring the situation and are in communication with the Illinois State Veterinarian for guidance.”
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Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium adjusted their bird exhibits in late March in response to bird flu infection data they had been tracking in the eastern United States.
The confirmed cases were within 125 miles of Pittsburgh when the zoo increased its “biosecurity measures” on March 31 and moved resident birds.
Zoo visitors can see flamingos from their indoor habitat and penguins from their PPG Aquarium habitat. However, ostriches, chickens and owls are “safely housed in barns” away from public access.
“The safety of our animals and our staff remains our top priority,” said Dr. Jeremy Goodman, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium, in a statement.
He added: “Many additional precautions for animal care personnel have been and in some cases continue to be used due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
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The Pittsburgh Zoo and Aquarium PPG noted that bird flu has the “potential to spread to other species, including mammals,” but the risk is considered low. Despite the low risk of transmission between species, the zoo has urged visitors to avoid feeding or interacting with wild birds and to be especially careful if they have a pet bird or poultry.
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Bird flu strains rarely infect humans, according to the CDC. There have been only four confirmed avian-to-human influenza infections in the United States and these infections were considered low pathogenic. The CDC has found no evidence of human-to-human spread of bird flu.
Even still, millions of birds are slaughtered to eradicate the infection, especially in the livestock and poultry industries.