Reports of avian flu have dropped in Sask., says province

A dead snow goose at the TransCanada highway between Regina and Moose Jaw. The province says some strains of highly pathogenic avian influenza, including the H5N1 influenza strain, have resulted in significant mortality in a variety of wild bird species, including flocks of migrating birds, water birds, raptors and scavenging birds (Fiona Odlum/CBC - image credit)

Visitors to the Saskatoon Forestry Farm Park & Zoo are once again able to visit some of the park's feathered residents.

In April the zoo decided to temporarily move some of its birds indoors after avian flu was detected in the province.

Now the city says the majority of the birds at the zoo were returned to their exhibits last week, "as the risk of avian influenza is much less now than it was earlier in the year."

Before returning most of the birds to their outside spaces, zoo officials consulted with veterinarians and other Canadian zoos, said Allison Collins, media relations advisor with the city of Saskatoon.

"All returning birds were given complete physicals prior to their return," said Collins in an email.

"The only birds that have not been returned to their habitat yet are the bald eagles, as they, as a species, are more susceptible to contracting it. They will continue to spend a little more time in their own safe, secure setting."

600 reports of sick or dead birds, says province

Saskatchewan's Ministry of Environment confirmed that the reports of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) have dropped off considerably since May because of migration.

Since the start of the outbreak, the Ministry of Environment has received 600 reports of sick or dead birds, with around 200 presumptive positive cases of HPAI awaiting confirmation, the ministry said in an email.

"The virus continues to circulate in wild bird populations in the province," said the ministry.

The ministry said continues to get sporadic reports of illness and mortality in different nesting waterbirds such as cormorants and gulls, as well as in raptors and scavenging birds such as magpies, ravens and crows.

"It is still difficult to gauge if the level of mortality is large enough to impact wild bird populations."

Maryse Zeidler/CBC
Maryse Zeidler/CBC

On June 14, Saskatchewan's chief veterinary officer withdrew an animal health control area order imposed on April 14 to limit the co-mingling of poultry and cut the risk of exposure.

The order prohibited birds from entering shows, auctions or other events where they would be brought to multiple locations.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Ministry of Agriculture will continue to monitor the situation, the province says on its website.

Presumptive cases in mammals in Saskatchewan

In May, presumptive cases of avian flu were showing up in some species of mammals in Saskatchewan.

Back then Trent Bollinger, a wildlife pathologist at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon, said the transmission to mammals was not a surprise since cases have been showing up in the United States.

Overall, there have been five presumptive cases of HPAI in red foxes and five cases in striped skunks in Saskatchewan, according to the Ministry of Environment.

The animals were found dead or showing clinical signs — seizures and tremors — similar to those observed in wild birds affected with the virus, said the ministry.