U.S. Zoos Move Birds Indoors As Bird Flu Continues to Spread

by Amy Myers
(Photo by: Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

As bird flu cases continue to ravage the grocery industry, zoos and aviaries, too, are making sure to protect their inhabitants to the best of their ability. So far, farmers have had to euthanize over 23 million chickens and turkeys because of the virus, and zookeepers fear that the flu may breach the facility’s walls.

The Big Picture

  • Zoos and aviaries are taking extreme precautions to prevent the spread of bird flu
  • Zoo officials worry that they may have to euthanize endangered birds in facility if the virus reaches them
  • Facilities have had to close some exhibits temporarily to protect birds from exposure
  • Equipment, wild birds and mice are among the many ways bird flu can spread to zoo populations

All over the country, zoos are moving their birds indoors and behind more secure walls to keep them safe from any risk of the virus. Bird flu is extremely contagious, so if one bird contracts the virus, the entire flock must be euthanized. For birds in group enclosures, like flamingos and penguins, as well as endangered species, precautionary measures are paramount. But that doesn’t just mean keeping the doors closed to prevent outside birds from entering the facility.

Typically, the virus spreads from droppings and nasal discharge from birds. However, humans, mice, and equipment can easily infect the zoo’s residents with bird flu as well. As such, zoo officials have to take extra care to disinfect themselves and their equipment and keep a sharp eye out for any wandering rodents.

“It would be extremely devastating,” said Maria Franke, who is the manager of welfare science at Toronto Zoo. “We take amazing care and the welfare and well-being of our animals is the utmost importance. There’s a lot of staff that has close connections with the animals that they care for here at the zoo.”

Zoo Official Says Euthanasia Is ‘The Only Way’ to Keep Bird Flu From Spreading

As careful as zoo officials may be, they also have to accept that a positive test means euthanization. Sarah Woodhouse, director of animal health at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, stressed that this is, of course, the last resort for their establishment.

“They all agree that ordering us to depopulate a large part of our collection would be the absolute last-ditch effort. So they’re really interested in working with us to see what we can do to make sure that we’re not going to spread the disease while also being able to take care of our birds and not have to euthanize,” Woodhouse said.

However, should their residents test positive for bird flu, the zoo must depopulate the group swiftly.

“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.”

For now, that means fewer exhibits may be open to the public. However, according to Kansas City Zoo CEO Sean Putney, most visitors are okay with this.

“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.”