700 vultures found dead at Noah’s Ark Sanctuary due to bird flu outbreak

HENRY COUNTY, Ga. — The Georgia Department of Natural Resources says they’re assessing and investigating the deaths of 700 hundred black vultures at the Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary in Locust Grove. The state has confirmed that those deaths are related to an avian influenza outbreak, commonly known as bird flu.

Workers suspect a contaminated bird got into the resident vulture population. Efforts are underway to prevent the spread to other animals.

Noah’s Ark said in a statement that initial tests show that the H5N1 strain of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) was the cause of death.

Employees said that more than 400 birds are now at risk of being euthanized.

State Sen. Emanuel Jones says two state inspections were conducted last week. “We have mobilized to ensure that this outbreak is contained,” said Jones.

The facility is now on lockdown to the public while they investigate.

Experts say bird flu poses little threat to humans. However, animals, specifically birds infected with the virus should not be handled.

Jones said state officials are assessing other birds on sight.

This investigation comes amid turmoil among the board members at Noah’s Ark.

Last week, Noah’s Ark founder Jama Hedgecoth said she feared something of this magnitude happening, after new board members removed an experienced veterinarian from the board and suspended a member from their Animal Emergency Response team.

“The safety is probably my biggest concern right now,” said Hedgecoth.

Statement from Noah’s Ark board:

As our Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary care team provides a safe and healthy environment for our animals, it is standard practice to collaborate with State and Federal officials. Our No. 1 priority is the safety and health of animals and our community.

In the past six months, Noah’s Ark has added more animal care staff than ever before and tripled the number of veterinary staff consulting with our staff and treating animals.

On Saturday 8/13/22, our professional team members noticed an unusual number of dead wild black vultures on property. Out of concern, we notified State authorities the same day and they performed an assessment and gathered samples, sending them to the lab. Noah’s Ark implemented biosecurity measures immediately and has remained in close contact with State officials daily since that time. The risk of human infection with avian influenza is very low.

Since 8/13 Noah’s ark has been coordinating with local, Federal and State agencies -- Georgia Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Department of Natural Resources – to manage and contain the situation. All three agencies have been on site since 8/13 in an overabundance of caution to ensure the health and safety of the animals and humans at Noah’s Ark and the protection of the community at large.

On 8/20/22 the State informed Noah’s Ark that the initial testing indicated Avian Influenza (HPAI) which is found in 45 states and carried by wild birds, but can also be transmitted to poultry and waterfowl (source APHIS.usda.gov). This is a natural disease event.

We have been placed under quarantine by the Georgia Department of Agriculture. As a natural disease event, the site needs to be contained, cleaned up and then sanitized/disinfected. We are at the contained stage. But our State Agency partners are and will lead clean up and sanitization. They will lead full vulture removal and roost removal and sanitation.

It was an unusually large vulture roost that had developed over the last several years. The vulture population is still dying off as the disease runs its course. State agencies are leading the cleanup and disposal and will have an accurate accounting in coming days.

None of the parrots or exotic birds in our care have shown any signs of disease.

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