You may have seen the news that there have been several confirmed cases of bird flu in the UK, and that our sister zoo Paignton Zoo has had to close temporarily due to the disease. Here are the answers to the most frequently asked questions about bird flu.
What is bird flu?
Avian influenza (bird flu) is a virus that can spread directly (ie through contact) or indirectly (ie through faeces) between birds. It is potentially transmissible to humans although the risk of this is very low. Because it is so transmissible between birds however, it is classed as a notifiable disease, which means that any cases have to be reported to the Department of Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra).
How did a zoo bird get bird flu?
Paignton Zoo is located in a lush, wooded river valley that provides a haven for countless wild animals. This means that wild birds frequently visit or set up home, which in turn means that any diseases that are present in the local wild bird population can potentially find their way into the zoo. Although many of Paignton’s birds are in enclosed aviaries or indoor exhibits, some of them are kept in larger, open areas (such as the lake) or, in the case of peafowl, roam freely around the site. The most likely way that the birds caught the avian influenza virus is through unfortunate contact with an infected wild bird.
How big a problem is bird flu?
Bird flu poses a very serious risk to both wild and captive bird populations, and this risk is increasing every year. Already this year, there have been more than 5 x as many outbreaks as there were in the whole of 2021 and scientists suggest that this is the worst outbreak of the disease ever seen in the UK. In previous years, bird flu tended to be seasonal, appearing occasionally over the winter period. This year however, the disease has never really gone away and cases have been reported in all seasons.
Bird flu spreads easily amongst birds when they are in close contact. This is why it is such a serious concern for poultry farms, and is also why there have been such devastating outbreaks around the UK in seabird colonies. It’s not just the UK where this is happening, substantial outbreaks have also occurred in other countries, in both wild and captive settings.
What measures have been implemented at Paignton?
The work Paignton has been doing with the the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) and Defra has been to make sure we have suitable measures in place to prevent any further spread of the disease within the zoo. This has meant the introduction of additional biosecurity across the zoo site, as well as the construction of new quarantine and isolation facilities to allow us to separate and monitor those birds deemed to be particularly at risk Most notably from a visitor perspective, people will see that we have had to remove our captive birds from the main lake, and we no longer have peafowl free roaming around the zoo. The main reason for this is that these birds were in regular contact with wild birds, and it will have been these wild birds that brought the bird flu infection onto the site.
Have birds been culled?
Because it is such a serious disease, affected birds are required to be humanely culled. At this point in time, Paignton is working on confirming which birds APHA and Defra consider as affected.
What does it mean for Newquay Zoo?
Newquay Zoo has not currently been affected by bird flu, but we have implemented a range of measures as a precaution. Foot baths are present in key areas, including the main visitor entrance, outside our Gems of the Jungle aviary and outside the Tropical House. All visitors will be required to use these upon entering and exiting these areas. Please ensure that you wear appropriate footwear for your visit. We have also restricted non-essential access to all bird enclosures and service areas and our staff have increased surveillance of wild birds on site as well as monitoring our captive birds. Thank you for your understanding as we make these vital changes to ensure the health and safety of our birds.