Cases of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) have been rising in backyard flocks and wild birds across dozens of states in recent months, prompting zoo officials to temporarily shut down bird exhibits.
“This strain of the disease is highly contagious and lethal to birds,” the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore said in a statement on its website. “As a precautionary measure, we have closed our aviaries and moved several of our bird species to behind-the-scenes facilities with limited human contact until the threat of avian influenza has subsided.”
Birds in zoos could get infected by wild birds, humans or a new bird introduced to the facility.
The spread has led zoos in Pennsylvania, Colorado, Michigan, Wisconsin, Texas and Ohio in addition to Maryland to take preventative steps, including closing outdoor bird exhibits and moving the birds indoors for their safety.
The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) established the Zoo and Aquarium All Hazards Partnership program, which collaborates with zoos to create a plan before outbreaks occur.
Preventative measures include putting up tarps or netting around the exhibits, closing walk-through aviaries to the public and implementing strong quarantine protocols, according to Rob Vernon, AZA’s senior vice president for communications and strategy.
“Facilities are going to be in full response mode to protect their birds for at least the next couple of months until transmission decreases,” Vernon told CNN in a statement.
Zoos take precautionary measures
In an effort to prevent infections, zoos have taken various steps to keep their birds safe.
The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium has barred the public from accessing birds including ostriches, chickens and owls. Visitors may see flamingos and penguins through the glass of their indoor habitats.
Dr. Ann Duncan, who heads animal health at Detroit Zoological Society, said moving birds indoors is a crucial preventive measure.
The Maryland Zoo is adhering to a multi-tiered response plan reviewed by the USDA as well as other state departments, it said in a statement.
The zoo, which has the largest colony of African penguins in North America, has not detected cases — but the case count is close enough to move its birds indoors, according to its senior communications director, Mike Evitts.
“We are hatching penguin chicks as part of a plan to increase their numbers with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums breeding program as part of a global conservation effort,” he said.
Ohio’s Columbus Zoo also shuttered some bird habitats as they undergo monitoring and evaluation, according to its director of communication, Jen Fields.
CNN’s Gregory Wallace contributed to this report.