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North Dakota and the Red River Zoo batten down the hatches as avian influenza arrives in state

The state has banned poultry shows and events like it, as the zoo takes animals off exhibit.

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The Red River Zoo will be taking precautions, as needed, to keep its avian population safe. Currently, only the white-naped cranes, the bald eagle and ravens are out on exhibit.
Ben Morris / WDAY-TV

FARGO — The deadly and contagious strain of Eurasian avian influenza has arrived in North Dakota, and as a result, the state has banned poultry shows and other flock-gathering events.

It's a move to protect commercial bird flocks from the deadly virus.

"Once it gets into our commercial birds, they don't have that previous exposure, they don't have the immune system adapted to deal with this new virus. And it's very, very detrimental to them," said North Dakota State Veterinarian Dr. Ethan Andress.

While it may sound like it will hurt business for farmers, that's the last thing they want to do. So as a result, they will still allow the sale of birds from the owner's property as long as bio-security is kept in mind.

"It's a highly aggressive virus. It is," Andress said. "It causes a very high mortality, high death loss in a lot of these birds."

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And it not only affects poultry farms, but the birds at zoos like the Red River Zoo.

As of now, only the white-naped cranes, the bald eagle and the ravens are out on exhibit. While most of the zoo's birds, like those at the "Wings of the Orient" aviary, are in their holdings.

They also have to keep all their chickens in the farm section inside.

Typically, they also provide a space for birds to come and go, but that's behavior they now want to discourage.

"One of the things we're trying to do right now is to discourage any waterfowl from coming onto our property, so our ponds are drained right now. And we're going to be having to cut out a lot of these grasses and stuff," said Sally Jacobson, Executive Director of the Red River Zoo. "So when you visit the zoo, aesthetically, there's going to be pieces that are missing."

As for the birds still outside, Jacobson said they're the lucky ones, as they're less susceptible to it, at least for now in the early stages of this bird pandemic.

"Some of it might be modifying, modifying existing exhibits so that they can remain outside or some of them at some point (...) more of the birds might have to go off exhibit,"Jacobson said.

Jacobson added they had a similar situation in 2015 with avian influenza, so they have a plan to pull the animals in place in case it comes to that.

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Their No. 1 priority is to keep all of their animals safe and healthy, no matter what it takes.

Ben Morris joined WDAY in June of 2021 as a news reporter. He grew up in southern New Hampshire, before he moved to Fargo. He majored in media communications and minored in marketing at the University of Toledo in Ohio.
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