Mar 30, 2022 - News

Blank Park Zoo ramps up protocols to prevent spread of avian flu

A bird from Blank Park Zoo

An eclectus parrot at the Blank Park Zoo. Photo courtesy of the Blank Park Zoo

When Ryan Bickel heads to work at Blank Park Zoo, he can't park near the office.

  • He has to bring his own pair of clean shoes, and there are foot baths all around for workers like him to wash their feet.
  • "We went through COVID. ... We did two years of that and then without taking a breath ... we're doing all this to protect the birds from avian flu," Bickel, the zoo's chief marketing officer, tells Axios.

Driving the news: Avian influenza is taking the nation by storm, but it's particularly a problem in Iowa, the country's top egg producer.

  • More than eight million birds have been euthanized in the state to curb its spread since the flu was first confirmed in Iowa on March 1, — nearly 50% of the nation's total killed birds.

Between the lines: While the majority of the infected flocks come from farm or backyard operations, that doesn't mean Toucan Sam is safe either.

  • The flu is spreading primarily from migrating birds via their droppings, meaning every shoe is a potential spreader.
  • It's why bird handlers at the zoo are now wearing hazmat suits and the birds themselves are in different buildings, a sort of "social distancing" in case avian influenza does arrive.

As for the general public, everything will seem normal to them except the lack of bird exhibits, Bickel said.

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