Seattle Zoo Moves Birds Inside As Avian Flu Outbreak Grows

SEATTLE — Woodland Park Zoo is moving several of its birds indoors and out of public view as a precautionary measure to protect species most at risk for catching H5N1, a highly pathogenic avian influenza that has been detected in flocks in several Western Washington counties.

The zoo’s announcement arrived the same day that state agriculture officials confirmed new infections in Clallam County, bringing Washington to at least a half-dozen since the first was detected less than a week ago in Pacific County. Officials said avian flu was detected in two unrelated backyard flocks, with a dozen geese in one and 10 chickens in the other, and the birds had contact with wild waterfowl.

The state Department of Agriculture is urging flock owners to take special precautions to prevent the risk of infection and spread.

“Now is the time to be extra disciplined, even if it seems extreme,” said Dr. Amber Itle, the state veterinarian. “If flock owners could remain diligent for just a few weeks until the waterfowl complete their migration north, we should be able to get through the worst of it with lower impact.”

In Seattle, Woodland Park Zoo said it was focusing on protecting the species at highest risk of exposure to wild birds, including raptors, peacocks, penguins, flamingos, cranes, ducks and swans. Birds that cannot feasibly me relocated indoors will have temporary roofing installed on their enclosures, and walk-through aviaries will be closed until further notice.

“Because avian influenza is transmitted by contact with infected wild birds or with their fecal matter, moving our birds inside and away from any other birds is the safest control measure we can take,” said Dr. Tim Storms, the zoo’s director of animal health. “This is an alarming disease for birds with a high mortality rate which requires proactive measures.”

In addition to closing the aviaries and moving the birds, the zoo will temporarily suspend up-close contact with “ambassador birds,” like owls and hawks. Visitors can expect to see signs explaining why many popular exhibits are empty.

“We know many of our visitors will be disappointed they won’t be able to see birds that are most at risk of avian flu, especially our popular penguins and flamingos,” said Sheri Horiszny, the zoo’s chief operations officer. “We are confident our visitors and members will understand we have our animals’ best interests in mind and understand our decision to keep our birds indoors and protect them from the highly contagious and potentially deadly avian influenza.”

The zoo has a special team in place to coordinate its avian influenza prevention efforts and response, along with participating in the state’s broader bird flu surveillance program. Zoo officials said a health team will test any zoo or wild birds showing symptoms or found dead and report any infections to the state.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the risk of human infection is considered very low.

Source: Bellevue Patch