Avian Influenza in Exotic Birds To Be Treated Differently | Poultry News | lancasterfarming.com – Lancaster Farming

A rhea walks at Godstone Farm in Surrey, United Kingdom.
A rhea walks at Godstone Farm in Surrey, United Kingdom.
Avian influenza has infected birds at a Pennsylvania wildlife park, but the state veterinarian believes poultry farms will be safe without the need to euthanize the site’s exotic avians.
Lake Tobias Wildlife Park, a family-oriented safari attraction and zoo in Halifax, confirmed the disease Oct. 14 in a flock of 25 young rheas — large, emu-like birds native to South America.
Because rheas are considered zoo birds and not domestic fowl, state and federal rules did not require the birds to be depopulated. Rather, the disease was allowed to run its course while the infected birds were sequestered from other animals, said Jan Tobias-Kieffer, a park spokesperson.
Precautionary measures are in place, and no other birds have tested positive, Tobias-Kieffer said.
The handling of exotic birds is conspicuously different from the fate of chickens, ducks and turkeys in farm and backyard settings. Such flocks are always killed off when infected with avian influenza.
Almost 48 million birds have been killed nationwide during this year’s outbreak, one of the worst in U.S. history.
Zoological exhibitions, such as wildlife parks and zoos, are generally able to mitigate the risk of disease spread by segregating and monitoring infected birds, said Kevin Brightbill, Pennsylvania’s state veterinarian.
Quarantined birds should not come in contact with other fowl, or with visitors who could transport virus particles home with them.
“When we get into some of these more exotic species, I think we need to use common sense,” Brightbill said in an Oct. 18 poultry industry call. “What are the risk factors? Can they be isolated properly and observed?”
Brightbill confirmed that a Pennsylvania wildlife park had detected avian influenza in rheas but did not identify the business, in keeping with privacy practices applied to infected farms.
The state Ag Department, Health Department and Game Commission collaborated on a plan that involved isolating the park’s rheas and young ostriches, and testing its chickens and ducks.
The business cooperated with the state and was willing to take all proposed precautions, Brightbill said.
Brightbill doesn’t see the more severe stamping-out approach changing for farms, especially with the high concentration of poultry operations in Pennsylvania heightening the risk of disease spread.
Commercial poultry operations contain thousands or even millions of birds, and a delay of only a few days in depopulating an infected house can allow sick birds to shed a vast amount of virus particles that risk being spread to other farms. Owners of depopulated birds can receive indemnity from USDA.
Zoological exhibitions are a different animal. They have fewer birds and are less numerous than poultry farms. Zoos tend to be far from one another, and they don’t directly contribute to the U.S. food supply.
Not having a depopulation mandate at zoos also limits the number of rare species that might have to be culled during an outbreak.
Rheas are at low risk of extinction, though wild populations are declining, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.
The issue of avian influenza in exotic birds recently gained national attention after Emmanuel, a Florida emu popular on TikTok, was reportedly infected with avian influenza but was not euthanized.
The bird’s owner posted Oct. 22 that the emu had tested negative for avian influenza but probably got sick from the stress of state officials depopulating other birds at the farm.
Zoos started taking precautions against avian influenza when the disease hit North America early this year, sending birds indoors and closing some exhibits.
The Philadelphia Zoo has returned emus and Humboldt penguins to their outdoor enclosures. Birds of prey — which are at high risk from the current virus strain — are staying in “protective spaces” while their outdoor exhibits are modified, the zoo said in August.
Lake Tobias has moved some outdoor exotic bird displays and will not have them available for public viewing for the rest of the park season, Tobias-Kieffer said.
Pennsylvania did not issue an advisory to the poultry industry about the wildlife park infection because the risk was considered mitigated. Brightbill said the state has followed the same procedure in similar zoo cases.
When deciding not to issue an alert, Brightbill said he weighed the possibility that infected wildlife parks could be targeted by animal welfare activists.
“You really have to ensure you get the appropriate response but also (are) not drawing a lot of attention to it as long as we feel we can mitigate the risk. And that’s what we felt we did,” Brightbill said.
Lancaster Farming offers a printable one-page handout with biosecurity recommendations, avian influenza symptoms and numbers to call for reporting a suspected outbreak. Find it at bit.ly/protectyourflock.

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Phil Gruber is the news editor at Lancaster Farming. He can be reached at 717-721-4427 or pgruber@lancasterfarming.com. Follow him @PhilLancFarming on Twitter.
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