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Louisville Zoo temporarily closes some areas to protect bird population from flu

Geese in their new suburban neighborhood
Geese in their new suburban neighborhood

Zoo officials have temporarily closed public avian walkthroughs and placed some of its birds into protective enclosures due to avian flu reports west of Jefferson county.  

“As always, our highest priority is animal safety and welfare,” zoo executive director Dan Maloney said in a press statement about the closures. “By temporarily closing public access to the aviaries, and moving some birds to indoor areas, we will help ensure the birds’ health for as long as the situation requires.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), found the presence of the virus in both wild bird populations and barnyard flocks in multiple Kentucky counties.

“These viruses are classified as either 'low pathogenic' or 'highly pathogenic' based on their ability to produce disease in domestic poultry,” Dr. Christine Casey, wildlife veterinarian for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife said in a statement. “Wild waterfowl do not typically exhibit signs of disease, but mortality can occur in wild birds infected with highly pathogenic strains."

The type of avian flu being reported in Kentucky countries is highly pathogenic. 

The virus was discovered last month among flocks of commercial poultry and barnyard birds in Fulton and Webster counties. Last week, the infected included wild birds from Ballard, Breckinridge, and Henderson Counties.

Zoo officials keep a watch on the USDA’s website that tracks cases of the avian flu across the county.

“We have a plan a place that goes into different action steps depending on close it is to the Louisville Zoo,” zoo senior veterinarian Dr. Zoli Gyimesi said.

A report in late February found mallard ducks in Breckinridge County infected with the avian flu. Because it was within a 40-mile radius of the zoo, facility officials were forced to move forward with the protective enclosure plan.

Their main concern is that birds in outdoor enclosures can interact with wild waterfowl, such as ducks and geese which commonly carry and spread the virus. 

“So we’re not so worried about birds that are housed indoors, but you know the flamingos— the Chilean flamingos— or some of the raptors or cranes that are outdoors there’s potential for exposure there,” Gyimsesi said. 

There is no clear timeline of when these protective measures will end, but Gyimsesi said that avian flu thrives in cold water, so there will be less of a concern as the seasonal temperatures start to warm up.

He also stressed that there are no human cases of the avian virus.

“This all about bird health and keeping our zoo birds safe, you know avian influenza typically isn’t a huge human health concern,” Gyimsesi said.

No zoo birds have shown symptoms of infection.

Breya Jones is the Arts & Culture Reporter for LPM. Email Breya at bjones@lpm.org.

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