June 21, 2024

PINE BELT, Miss. (WDAM) – It’s flu season for people … and for birds.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, avian influenza has been on the rise in 2022 across the United States. Outbreaks in wild birds and poultry continue, and the country approaches a record number of birds affected compared to previous bird flu outbreaks.

The Hattiesburg Zoo has been monitoring migratory paths and outbreaks that have followed across the U.S.A.

“When positive cases occur within 250 miles or less of our Zoo, our well-established action plan is put into place immediately,” said Jeremy Cumpton, director of conservation, education and wildlife.

This month an Avian Influenza outbreak occurred within 52 miles of the Hattiesburg Zoo, which led the animal care team to take direct and specific precautions to prepare and protect the birds in its care.

Avian Influenza affects the respiratory, neurological and digestive systems. Birds most susceptible to Avian Influenza are domestic poultry, egrets, geese, flamingos, swans and resident waterfowl. The disease can spread through feces, respiratory droplets and bodies of water.

The Hattiesburg Zoo’s animal care team has intensified their use of personal protection equipment including the use of footbaths when entering and exiting bird habitats, wearing of masks, gloves and in some cases single-use full-body suits.

“We have moved some of our birds to different habitats and moved food and water bowls under shelters or into the interior area of the birds’ habitats, which will provide protection while still giving the birds access,” said Kristen Moore, animal curator. “We have also drained pools in the Eagle Habitat and in the Veldt of Africa.”

Additional cleaning will be done on the sidewalks around the flamingo habitat and Wallaby Walkabout.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we have taken all chickens and Parrots off exhibit,” said Moore. “We are also closely observing the waterfowl that reside on the zoo’s pond.”

“Several of our birds are among the most popular animal ambassadors at the Hattiesburg Zoo, but will not be used for education or interaction around guests at this time,” said Cumpton.

Although the overall risk to the general public from the current bird flu outbreaks remains low, it is important that people take preventive measures around infected or potentially infected birds/poultry to prevent the spread of bird flu viruses to themselves or to other birds/poultry and other animals, including pets.

This applies not just to workplace or wildlife settings but potentially to household settings where people have backyard flocks or pet birds with potential exposures to wild or domestic infected birds. Increased hand-washing and the use of hand sanitizers are highly encouraged.

“The actions we are taking are in the best interest of our birds,” said Cumpton. “We fully expect to return to our regular protocols and have our birds back in their regular habitats within the next 21 days.”

For more about the Hattiesburg Zoo, click HERE.

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