Bird flu case prompts Omaha zoo to close several exhibits

Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium has closed several exhibits and taken other precautions after one of its pelicans died from the bird flu.

The zoo said one of its pink-backed pelicans that died on Thursday tested positive for the highly pathogenic avian influenza. A second pelican became ill Friday and was euthanized.

As a precaution, the zoo has closed its Lied Jungle, Desert Dome and Simmons Aviary exhibits to the public for at least 10 days.

The Omaha zoo was one of many across the country that closed down its aviaries and moved birds inside whenever possible to help protect them from avian influenza that is primarily spread by the droppings of wild birds.

The zoo reopened its aviary in June after bird flu cases waned, but some cases continued to be reported across the country throughout the summer, and the outbreak has started to make a resurgence this fall.

More than 47 million chickens and turkeys have been slaughtered in 42 states to limit the spread of bird flu during this year’s outbreak. Officials order entire flocks to be killed when the virus is found on farms. More than 6 million chickens and turkeys were slaughtered last month to limit the spread of the disease.

The Omaha zoo also took precautions to protect its birds by limiting staff access to them and requiring workers to clean their shoes before entering areas where the birds are kept.

The zoo said its pelicans live outside, so they do come into contact with wild birds. But the pelicans don’t come into contact with other zoo birds and no other birds in the zoo’s collection have shown symptoms of bird flu.

“It is very important that Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium immediately tighten our protocols to protect our birds and guard against any potential spread of avian influenza,” Sarah Woodhouse, the zoo’s director of animal health, said in a statement. “This is important both to prevent infection of other zoo birds, and to prevent the virus from being dispersed off zoo grounds.”

Unlike on farms, zoos are generally allowed to isolate and treat an infected bird as long as they take precautions to protect the other birds in their collections.

Health officials emphasize that bird flu doesn’t jeopardize food safety because infected birds aren’t allowed into the food supply and properly cooking meat and eggs to 165 degrees Fahrenheit will kill any viruses.

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