SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) — As bird migration draws near, avian influenza concern rises at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo for the third straight season. Both last spring and last fall, the zoo was forced to quarantine all of its birds and drain its pond. With virus cases currently rising, bird collection manager Lucas Whitman and his staff closely track influenza reports from the area to determine if any precautions will be necessary.
“We will continue to monitor on the parameters of is it detected in our flyway and within how many miles,” said Whitman. “If we hit those parameters again, we will have to pull [the birds] in again.”
Within the last year, the zoo opened its 20,000 square-foot Animal Health Center. The space contains quarantining rooms for birds. With the additional building and the recent experience handling avian influenza concerns, Whitman and company feel far more prepared for the possibility of taking birds off exhibit this spring.
“For years since I have been here, there has always been the threat of avian influenza, and you hear about it happening at other zoos. Now that it has actually come through our area and we have had practical hands-on training for the staff, we should be in much better shape for the transition if we have to pull them in again,” said Whitman.
While Whitman admits there are economic benefits to keeping the birds on exhibit, money is not at the top of the list of priorities. Animal safety and education remain the zoo’s main purpose, two concepts still supported when the birds are forced off exhibit.
“We like to keep as many animals out on exhibit for the public to see to help promote our messaging and conservation. With the waterfowl, there are quite a few native species, which helps promote conservation. [Last year] did, however, open up other opportunities to educate the public on why the birds were off exhibit,” said Whitman.
For now, the Rosamond Gifford Zoo will remain full of life with its birds on exhibit. One case detected near Central New York, and that could all change though.