Omaha Zoo Closes Multiple Exhibits Amid Potential Bird Flu Outbreak

by Sean Griffin
(Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)

A popular Omaha zoo, Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium, has now closed several exhibits after one of its pelicans died from the bird flu.

The zoo said one of its pink-backed pelicans died on Thursday. They later found that it tested positive for the highly pathogenic avian influenza. A second pelican became ill Friday and was then euthanized.

The zoo took precautions after finding out about the infections. The zoo closed its Lied Jungle, Desert Dome and Simmons Aviary exhibits to the public for at least 10 days.

This avian influenza, primarily spread by the droppings of wild birds, affects many zoos across the country, who must close down aviaries to protect their birds.

The zoo reopened its aviary in June after bird flu cases decreased. However, some cases persisted across the country throughout the summer. Now, the flu has made a resurgence this fall.

More than 47 million chickens and turkeys have been slaughtered in 42 states. This has been in an effort to limit the spread of bird flu during this year’s outbreak.

Omaha Zoo Takes Other Precautions to Protect Birds from Avian Flu

Officials order entire flocks to be killed whenever the virus is found on farms. More than 6 million chickens and turkeys were slaughtered last month in an effort to limit the spread of the disease.

The Omaha zoo took other precautions to protect its birds. First, they now limit staff access to the birds. Second, they require workers to clean their shoes before entering areas were the birds live.

The zoo said its pelicans live outside, so they frequently make contact with wild birds. However, the zoo reports that the pelicans don’t come into contact with other zoo birds. They also report that no other birds in the zoo’s collection have shown symptoms of bird flu.

“It is very important that Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium immediately tighten our protocols to protect our birds and guard against any potential spread of avian influenza,” Sarah Woodhouse, the zoo’s director of animal health, said in a statement. “This is important both to prevent infection of other zoo birds, and to prevent the virus from being dispersed off zoo grounds.”

Unlike on farms, zoos are generally allowed to isolate and treat an infected bird. However, they must take precautions to protect the other birds in their facilities.

Health officials emphasize that bird flu doesn’t jeopardize food safety. This is because infected birds aren’t allowed into the food supply and properly cooking meat and eggs to 165 degrees Fahrenheit will promptly kill any viruses.

 In August 2014, TripAdvisor proclaimed Henry Doorly Zoo the “world’s best zoo”, beating out San Diego Zoo and Loro Parque.

Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium is nationally renowned for its ingenuity in animal conservation and research. It evolved from the public Riverview Park Zoo that was established in 1894.