Dane County’s Henry Vilas Zoo is taking steps to prevent a potentially deadly avian flu from infecting their bird species. A highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) has reached Wisconsin and the zoo is taking measures to protect their animals. The Aviary will remain closed through April. Flamingos, chickens, and penguins will be kept indoors and the zoo’s Sandhill crane is being relocated to the Animal Health Center. All Behind the Scenes tours involving bird species have been suspended and only animal care staff will be allowed to enter bird spaces with increased PPE precautions.
The HPAI detections do not present an immediate public health concern and no human cases have been detected, but the disease could be catastrophic to the zoo’s bird population.
“We have many endangered birds species on grounds and our main priority right now is to do everything we can to protect them,” said Deputy Zoo Director Joseph Darcangelo. “We have instituted our disease outbreak protocols to protect our high-risk bird species who live at the Zoo. This includes moving certain birds indoors to prevent the transmission of HPAI from wild birds, especially waterfowl.”
Recently a commercial flock of almost 3 million chickens had to be euthanized in Wisconsin after birds on the farm tested positive for this highly lethal form of avian flu. Nationally over 7 million birds, mainly chickens and turkeys, have been culled due to bird flu since February.
“It is important for us all to be proactive in this situation,” said Dr. Mary Thurber, a veterinarian and clinical instructor at the UW School of Veterinary Medicine who works in the Henry Vilas Zoo Animal Health Center. “If you have birds at home, we recommend reviewing the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Defend the Flock Program to make sure you are using appropriate biosecurity to keep your birds safe.”
The zoo will continue to work with the USDA and state agencies to monitor the outbreak and will continue to evaluate when it becomes safe to reopen the bird habitats.