Hershey's ZooAmerica moves birds to protect them from avian influenza

Joseph Cress
The Sentinel (TNS)

ZooAmerica in Hershey has temporarily relocated its most susceptible bird species to different enclosures in an attempt to protect them from the highly contagious and potentially deadly avian influenza.

The birds have been transferred to enclosures that are roofed or to covered outdoor locations for close monitoring and to prevent contact with wild birds on zoo grounds, said Quinn Bryner, director of public relations and strategy for the Hershey Entertainment & Resorts Co.

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The Associated Press has reported that zoos across North America are moving their birds indoors and away from people and wildlife in an attempt to protect them from the disease.

Penguins may be the only birds visitors to many zoos can see right now, because they already are kept inside and usually protected behind glass in their exhibits, making it harder for bird flu to reach them.

The impacted species at ZooAmerica include snowy owls, bald eagles, sandhill crane, wild turkeys, red-tailed hawk, peregrine falcons and turkey vultures, Bryner said.

"As a zoo accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, ZooAmerica continues to prioritize its commitment to the safety of the North American animals in our care," she said. "We are working closely with the AZA, state agencies and industry experts to monitor the situation and determine the appropriate next steps with animal safety top of mind."

Nearly 23 million chickens and turkeys have already been killed across the U.S. to limit the spread of the virus, the Associated Press has reported. Zoos are working hard to prevent any of their birds from meeting the same fate. It would be especially upsetting for zoos to have to kill any of the endangered or threatened species in their care.

"It would be extremely devastating," said Maria Franke, who is the manager of welfare science at Toronto Zoo, which has less than two dozen Loggerhead Shrike songbirds that it's breeding with the hope of reintroducing them into the wild.

"The welfare and well-being of our animals is the utmost importance," Franke said. "There's a lot of staff that has close connections with the animals that they care for here at the zoo."

Most of the steps zoos are taking are designed to prevent contact between wild birds and zoo animals. In some places, officials are requiring employees to change into clean boots and don protective gear before entering bird areas.

Magellan penguins stand in their enclosure at the Blank Park Zoo, Tuesday, April 5, 2022, in Des Moines, Iowa. 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 avian influenza. Penguins may be the only birds visitors to many zoos can see right now, because they already are kept inside and usually protected behind glass in their exhibits, making it harder for the bird flu to reach them. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

When bird flu cases are found in poultry, officials order the entire flock to be killed because the virus is so contagious. However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has indicated that zoos might be able to avoid that by isolating infected birds and possibly euthanizing a small number of them.

Among the precautions zoos are taking is to keep birds in smaller groups so that if a case is found, only a few would be affected. The USDA and state veterinarians would make the final decision about which birds had to be killed.

"Euthanasia is really the only way to keep it from spreading," said Luis Padilla, who is vice president of animal collections at the Saint Louis Zoo. "That's why we have so many of these very proactive measures in place."

The National Aviary in Pittsburgh — the nation's largest — is providing individual health checks for each of its roughly 500 birds. Many already live in large glass enclosures or outdoor habitats where they don't have direct exposure to wildlife, said Dr. Pilar Fish, the aviary's senior director of veterinary medicine and zoological advancement.

Kansas City Zoo CEO Sean Putney said he's heard a few complaints from visitors, but most people seem OK with not getting to see some birds. "I think our guests understand that we have what's in the best interests of the animals in mind when we make these decisions even though they can't get to see them," Putney said.

A sign is displayed near a Magellan penguin outdoor viewing area redirecting visitors at the Blank Park Zoo, Tuesday, April 5, 2022, in Des Moines, Iowa. 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 avian influenza. Penguins may be the only birds visitors to many zoos can see right now, because they already are kept inside and usually protected behind glass in their exhibits, making it harder for the bird flu to reach them. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Officials said bird flu doesn't jeopardize the safety of meat or eggs or represent a significant risk to human health. No infected birds are allowed into the food supply, and properly cooking poultry and eggs kills bacteria and viruses. No human cases have been found in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.