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Zoo Boise prepares for new strain of bird flu

The latest strain of avian influenza, or bird flu, has zoos across the country protecting their flocks from the disease, including Zoo Boise.

Toogle, the Southern Ground Hornbill, greets visitors with a call that his big, red, neck sack can project for more than a mile.

And right now, zookeepers are worried about how they’re going to keep him and their many other birds safe from the latest strain of bird flu making its way west.

“We’ve got limited indoor housing and how long would we have to have our zoo birds indoors?” asked Dr. Mark Drew, Zoo Boise’s interim veterinarian.

Some species, which are sensitive to colder weather, are still occupying those indoor enclosures.

It’s also unclear right now, Drew said, as to which types of birds might be most susceptible to avian influenza. He said scientists have identified about 140 strains of the disease.

If this strain is similar to one behind an outbreak a few years ago, Drew expects raptors, like the zoo’s currently-nesting Steller’s sea eagles, to be most affected.

The disease is spread by many birds, like the Canadian geese that live in and around the zoo. Drew says they’re potentially adding roofs to the enclosures to block feces and nasal droplets from wild birds.

For right now, anyone entering the enclosures must disinfect their shoes beforehand to help stem the spread.

So far, the main victim of this strain of avian flu has been poultry. Commercial farms have culled more than 22 million chickens and turkeys since February, according to Reuters.

Idaho’s commercial poultry industry is minimal compared to powerhouse states in the Midwest and South. But there are many people who raise backyard chickens here.

Those hobby farmers, Drew said, should keep a close eye on their flock to watch for any odd behaviors.

“Those birds are going to be potentially subjected to sudden death. They may be just a little bit off. It depends on how virulent the strain is.”

No cases have been detected in Idaho as of Thursday morning, but wildlife officials in Wyoming confirmed a case there last week.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

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I cover politics and a bit of everything else for Boise State Public Radio. Outside of public meetings, you can find me fly fishing, making cool things out of leather or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season. If you have a tip, please get in touch!

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