The threat of avian flu has caused the Sedgwick County Zoo to make some subtle adjustments in how its birds are exhibited.
Flamingos were moved recently into an area where they do not come in contact with wild birds and geese. Some of the chickens and turkeys in the zoo’s Children’s Farms have been moved indoors or have found new homes.
The zoo’s staff and volunteers are advised to change shoes or disinfect their boots and shoes before and after moving from one avian exhibit to another.
“We are doing everything we can to protect the birds,” said Sandy Wilson, veterinarian at the zoo.
The H5N2 virus is highly contagious among some species of birds, particularly with poultry, Wilson said. The virus is not transmitted to humans.
Although scientists are still determining how the virus can be spread, it is generally thought to be spread by contact with bird feces.
“We continue to be worried that wild birds, such as waterfowl migrating, may be carrying the virus and that is why our birds are now confined to indoor exhibits or aviaries that are enclosed,” Wilson said.
The virus is not just a concern for domesticated birds, Wilson said. It can affect wild birds, such as turkeys.
“If a wild turkey or some other bird is infected, it will die of infection,” she said. “The birds usually die as soon as they get the virus.”
Zookeepers are now required to disinfect their boots or have a different pair of boots for every bird exhibit they enter, Wilson said.
“We want to make sure we are not tracking material from one exhibit to another,” she said.
She also encourages people who may have backyard chickens or other forms of poultry to take precautions, particularly as this part of the Midwest experiences the height of the spring migration.
People with backyard chickens and farms where waterfowl may congregate around ponds or water should take precautions, particularly if their chickens could come into contact with the fecal matter of ducks and geese.
“We are telling our staff and volunteers that anyone who has birds at home should change shoes when they come to the zoo and disinfect their shoes and boots before going in to see any of the birds,” Wilson said.
As temperatures warm into summer and the migration winds down, she is hopeful the extra precautions can be relaxed.
But if the virus continues to spread, she said, it’s possible that the zoo would have to consider temporarily closing some exhibits to the public.