Dead white pelican found on grounds of San Diego Safari Park tests positive for bird flu
A wild bird found dead on the grounds of San Diego Zoo Safari Park has tested positive for a bird flu that has swept across the country, sickening millions of wild birds and commercial poultry since the beginning of the year.
An employee found the white pelican in the park's East Pond on Nov. 1 and it was submitted for testing, a San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance spokesperson said. Park officials learned Thursday that it had tested positive for Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza.
None of the birds in the park's collection are believed to have been exposed to the highly contagious virus. The pond is about 3/4 of a mile from the nearest aviary at the sprawling 1,800-acre park, which is located in the San Pasqual Valley area of San Diego, near Escondido. Other dead birds have been found on the park grounds and have been submitted for testing, the spokesperson said.
Krysta Rogers, a senior environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, said her agency is waiting a final result from a U.S. Department of Agriculture laboratory to confirm the detection of HPAI in the bird found at Safari Park. Confirmation is a two-step process, she said.
So far, there have been three confirmed tests of HPAI in wild birds in San Diego County, including a black swan that died at Lake San Marcos. The other two confirmed cases involved a Western gull and a brown pelican; Rogers wouldn't give exact locations where the birds were found.
Three cases in San Diego County are awaiting confirmation from the federal lab, including the pelican found at Safari Park. "We have a policy of not calling it confirmed until it is confirmed by a USDA lab," she said.
The San Diego Zoo and Safari Park had been preparing for the arrival of the HPAI Eurasian H5N1 strain of bird flu since it was detected on the East Coast late last year. The strain has been causing illness and death in a higher diversity of wild bird species than during previous outbreaks and is highly contagious for domestic poultry.
Concerns about the virus prompted the parks to implement safety measures to try to protect the 3,700 birds in its collections—doing such things as bringing some birds to indoor enclosures and netting outdoor habitats. They also have placed disinfecting foot baths at the entrance to bird aviaries. Birds shed the virus through droppings and nasal discharge and it can also be spread through contaminated equipment, clothing, boots and vehicles.
In early October, SeaWorld San Diego halted its bird rescue program after cases of bird flu made it to Orange County. The first confirmed case in San Diego County was reported in October.
More than 50 million chickens and turkeys in commercial and backyard flocks in the U.S. have been slaughtered in 46 states to try to halt the spread, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Regulators order entire flocks to be killed when a case of the virus is found.
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