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All Avian Exhibits Still Closed at the Mesker Park Zoo Due to a Threat of Avian Influenza

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Erik Beck
Mesker Park Zoo & Botanic Gardens
Humboldt Penguins swim safely in their inside facilities while being quarantined from the public.

It’s been more than months since visitors could see the penguins or any other birds at the Mesker Park Zoo and Botanic Garden

All birds were moved inside in early November 2022 to keep them safe from the threat of avian infleunza. The zoo has policies in place should a bird with the disease be reported in a 150-mile radius.

This meant closing the Penguins of Patagonia and Amazonia exhibits, and bringing cranes and ostriches inside because of high pathogenic avian influenza — or HPAI. It is commonly transmitted through bird droppings, whether from above or maybe a visitor’s shoe.

“It's a very fatal virus,” said zoo Executive Director Erik Beck in early November when the threat last appeared. “So if they get them, most likely they don't survive. So we're taking every precaution we can. And that means taking the birds inside.”

Even staff are restricted from access, to further reduce the threat of infected droppings contacting the birds.

They hoped to bring the birds back after 30 days but another positive case was found on Dec. 27 within their area, according to marketing director Blake Shockley.

“Our hope is that no more positive cases pop-up, and if not, then they should hopefully be back out towards the end of the month,” Shockley said via email.

The zoo has never had a case of avian flu — though other zoos have. “So again, and we're all taking the same precautions … we're doing everything we can to prevent it,” Beck said in November.

Guests are warned about the changes at the gate, and a notice appears on the zoo website.

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File Photo
Mesker Park Zoo and Botanic Garden Executive Director Erik Beck stands before the currently empty Penguins of Patagonia exhibit Monday, Nov. 7. If a case of highly pathogenic avian influenza is detected within 150 miles, the zoo will follow biosecurity protocols and move not only penguins, but all birds inside. This quarantine was renewed because of another positive case late December.

Centers for Disease Control notes on HPAI
HPAI H5 viruses infect the respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts of birds, can spread rapidly, and cause high mortality in infected poultry. Many birds have died and millions of chickens and turkeys in several states have been culled to try to control the outbreaks Signs of HPAI in poultry can include sudden death; lack of energy, appetite, and coordination; purple discoloration or swelling of various body parts; diarrhea; nasal discharge; coughing; sneezing; and reduced egg production, or soft-shelled or misshapen eggs.