Neither Warren nor Noah’s Ark have been able to confirm the number of birds that have died on the spot so far, but the sanctuary said the vulture population is still dying as the virus runs its course.
The facility said state officials are monitoring other birds on the ground and any others found to be infected will be culled. No parrots or other exotic species have shown symptoms of the disease, Noah’s Ark said.
Birds infected with HPAI can exhibit a range of symptoms, including lethargy, tremors and seizures.
Noah’s Ark said employees noticed an unusually large number of dead black vultures on the property on Aug. 13 and notified state authorities. Later that day, samples were collected from affected birds and sent for testing.
On Saturday, the rescue center said it learned that the birds tested positive for HPAI. It has since been quarantined by the Department of Agriculture as work to decontaminate the facility and contain the spread continues.
“We appreciate the timely and professional response of our state and federal officials,” the sanctuary said in a statement. “Noah’s Ark is committed to the safety and health of its people, animals and community.”
A post from the sanctuary on its Facebook page said the park would remain closed through Saturday.
Noah’s Ark was founded in Ellenwood in 1978 by Jama Hedgecoth to care for injured, abused and orphaned animals. It moved to Locust Grove in 1990 to its current 250-acre campus.
The animal rehabilitation center is home to more than 1,500 animals from 100 different species, including wild birds, farm animals, bears, primates and exotic cats, according to the website.
Admission to the sanctuary is free and Noah’s Ark relies largely on donations. In 2019, the sanctuary reported $2 million in total revenue, including contributions and grants, and nearly the same amount in expenses, according to the most recent Internal Revenue Service financial disclosure, reviewed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The sanctuary has been popular with schools and volunteer groups for years. But recently, some with ties have expressed concerns about the facility’s management.
The founding family has been sidelined in part as new board and management have taken over.
Some of those issues aired last week at a meeting attended by Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, Senator Emmanuel Jones (D-Ellenwood) and Henry County Commission Chairman Carlotta Harrel.
“I am deeply saddened by the news of the latest developments at Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary,” Jones said in a statement. “The animals and staff deserve the highest level of care during these difficult times and I intend to do everything I can to continue to raise awareness and support for this life-saving sanctuary.”
In a statement, the shelter’s management said: “Over the past six months, Noah’s Ark has added more animal care staff than ever before and tripled the number of vets who consult with our staff and treat animals.”
Warren said the agency is working with partners from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and federal agencies to assess the extent of the outbreak and determine next steps.
According to USDA data, bird flu has affected more than 400 backyard and commercial flocks in 39 states this year. There have also been more than 2,100 wild bird detections in the US so far in 2022.
In June, the state The Department of Agriculture announced that the highly contagious strain had been discovered in a domestic herd in rural Toombs County. A total of 490 birds died or were euthanized in that event, which at the time was the first outbreak of 2022 in a Georgia backyard flock.
The virus has also been found in wild birds, including three dead bald eagles along the Georgia coast in April.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say HPAI poses little risk to humans and infections are rare. Earlier this year, one case was reported in Colorado in a patient involved in the culling of birds suspected of being infected with the virus. Human infections have also occurred in other countries, usually after long periods of unprotected contact with infected birds, the CDC says.
Georgia’s Commercial Poultry Industry Has Not Reported all cases related to this outbreak.
Chairman Harrell said the county is working with state officials to ensure the virus is contained in the sanctuary. She said the province has not received any calls from citizens who fear they may have come into contact with affected animals.
“We take it seriously,” she said, adding that county health officials are working with the state.