Apr 12, 2022 - News

Austin Zoo takes precautions against bird flu

The outbreaks of highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza have affected more than 30 states across the U.S. Photo: Li Jianguo/Xinhua via Getty Images

The Austin Zoo is playing it safe after animal health agencies reported positive cases of the highly transmissible avian influenza in North Texas last week.

Why it matters: The Department of Agriculture announced in January that it detected a strain of the bird flu not seen in the U.S. since 2016. At least 30 states have reported bird flu cases, and 24 million birds have been killed to limit the spread of the virus, making this the worst bird flu outbreak since 2015, NPR reported.

  • A USDA map of infections of the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) among wild birds shows that cases are concentrated along the eastern coastline and in the Midwest.
  • The disease is especially worryisome for the poultry industry.

The big picture: No outbreaks of the bird flu have been detected in zoos yet, but many across the country are taking precautions to protect their bird populations as dead wild birds in or near zoos have been found to be infected.

  • Austin Zoo curator Andrea O’Daniels told Axios the zoo plans to move a "majority" of its birds inside protected buildings.
  • The Dallas Zoo announced via Facebook last week that it would be keeping many of its birds — including African penguins and flamingos — away from the public and closing certain areas of the zoo after cases of the bird flu were detected within 100 miles of the zoo.

What they're saying: O'Daniels said Austin Zoo veterinarians have been watching the outbreak closely. In addition to moving birds into protected buildings, the zoo's free roaming birds will be moved to a secure area "out of an abundance of caution."

  • "We are continually monitoring the situation and will take additional steps as needed," she explained.
  • Zoo guests will still be able to see ostriches, emus, owls, ospreys and peafowls, but all other birds will be removed from exhibit.

What to do: People rarely get sick with bird flu, but those who are exposed to birds through recreational or work activities should take precautions, according to Greg Archer, a poultry specialist at Texas A&M's AgriLife Extension.

  • Chicken owners should practice immediate biosecurity — or take efforts to keep diseases away from birds, property and people, including keeping visitors to a minimum, hand-washing and disinfecting tools.

Yes, but: Texans with backyard feeders don’t need to take them down unless they also own chickens, Archer said.

  • "Taking down your bird feeder is not going to do anything except give them one less spot to get food from," he added.

What's next: The public is urged to report any sudden increase in sick birds or bird deaths to the Texas Animal Health Commission and the USDA.


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