BioPark's birds move indoors as avian flu inches closer to NM - Albuquerque Journal

BioPark’s birds move indoors as avian flu inches closer to NM

Master farmer David Jenks collects chicken eggs in a barn at the ABQ BioPark’s Heritage Farm. Chickens and turkeys at the farm have been moved to the safety of a barn as a precaution against exposure to avian flu. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

Birds at the ABQ BioPark have been placed indoors or had their exhibits covered by tarps as a precaution against an avian flu outbreak, which has been reported as close as Durango in southwest Colorado, and in some locales in west Texas.

“They’re not quarantined from each other, and many still have outdoor access, but the idea is to have them avoid wild birds or their droppings,” Carol Bradford, the BioPark’s senior veterinarian, said Monday.

Thus far, no birds at the BioPark nor anywhere in New Mexico have tested positive for the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, or HPAI, Bradford said. However, the virus has been detected in 30 states and has killed or forced the euthanasia of 27 million birds, most of them poultry stock.

For the last couple of months, zoos across the country have been moving their birds indoors to protect them from the highly transmissible virus strain. Officials at the BioPark have been monitoring the situation as the flu moved across the United States and put off moving the birds indoors until last week.

“Our action plan is helping us to swiftly and confidently take the steps necessary to keep our birds safe,” Bradford said.

About 75 birds at the BioPark have been moved to indoor locations or have had their exhibits covered with tarps, while another 25 chickens and turkeys at the BioPark’s Heritage Farm, on the grounds of the Botanic Garden, have been relocated inside a barn, she said.

Wild birds who visit the Tingley Beach ponds are being monitored, Bradford said.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the current HPAI virus has been found in 40 wild bird species, including migratory waterfowl like ducks and geese, who do not typically die from the virus nor become seriously ill. However, they can, and do, pass the virus to other birds who are more or less susceptible, depending on species. The virus is extremely deadly to domestic poultry.

The disease is transmitted via contact with an infected bird’s feces, or secretions from its nose, mouth or eyes. People can also spread the disease into poultry houses through bird dropping on their clothes or shoes, the USDA warns.

Transmission of the flu from birds to humans is possible but extremely rare, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Experts advise homeowners in affected areas to take down bird feeders to help protect wild birds during this outbreak.

Avian flu variants often peak during migration season and subside as the migratory species make their way from their winter grounds to their summer grounds.

Roughly 50 million birds were killed or destroyed during the 2014-15 avian flu outbreak over the course of six months. This year’s outbreak is already more than half that number after just two months. That last major outbreak cost the poultry industry $3 billion.

According to Forbes.com, since the start of the current outbreak in February, the average nationwide price of grocery store eggs has surged by about 52%, and the price of chicken breasts by about 58%.

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