Detroit Zoo to move its birds indoors as safeguard against avian flu

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

A majority of the birds featured at the Detroit Zoo will be moving indoors and away from public view as a safeguard against the avian flu plaguing the United States, officials said Friday.

They said the zoo's animal care staff is in the process of moving the birds and they'll remain indoors as long as necessary to ensure their health.

Detroit Zoo officials said Friday it was moving most of its birds, such as this peafowl, indoors to protect them from a highly contagious and deadly virus.

Many of the zoo's birds, including the flamingos, ostrich, cassowary, sandhill cranes, those housed in the Matilda R. Wilson Free-Flight Aviary and the peafowl that roam the grounds, will be out of public view, according to officials.

But the Polk Penguin Conservation Center will remain open to the public since it has separate air-handling systems for birds and zoo visitors, officials said.

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"This is an important preventative measure," Dr. Ann Duncan, director of animal health for the Detroit Zoo, said in a Friday statement. "By bringing these animals indoors, we can more closely monitor them and prevent contact with wild birds who may be carriers of (the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza.)"

Experts said avian influenza can be spread from flock to flock, by wild birds, through contact with infected poultry, or by equipment and on caretakers’ clothing.

On Thursday, officials with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development confirmed the bird flu was detected in a non-commercial backyard flock of birds in Kalamazoo County.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the recent detections of the flu aren't an immediate public health concern, but federal and state officials urge those who care for birds or are involved in the production of poultry to increase security measures to prevent the spread of illness among animals.

Dr. Hayley Murphy, the zoo's CEO, added she knows visitors will miss seeing the park's birds, but the zoo has to put the animals' health and well-being first.

"The animals and their needs are always our top priority," Murphy said in a statement. "We understand some guests may be disappointed they are unable to view the birds at this time, but we are pleased to still be able to offer dozens of world-class attractions, including our award-winning Polk Penguin Conservation Center."

Twitter: @CharlesERamirez