Sacramento Zoo Vaccinates Flamingos For West Nile Virus

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(Sacramento, CA)
Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Sacramento Zoo is guarding against the spread of West Nile Virus. 
The disease is spread by mosquitoes and can be deadly for people and animals—especially birds at the zoo.
So, veterinarians rounded up a flock of flamingos Thursday (02.05)  to give them their annual check up and vaccinations.    
Capital Public Radio’s Steve Shadley reports…

It’s early morning at the Sacramento Zoo…light rain is falling…and about a dozen zoo keepers are sneaking up on a group of flamingos.
Seeing these birds up close is pretty amazing.  They’re nearly fluorescent…their pink feathers are that color because of all the shrimp they eat…and they’re yellow eyes are beady and dart around a lot.  
“we’re doing our annual flamingo roundup…” 
Christine Bui works with these birds everyday.  She’s standing near  a pen where a few dozen captured flamingos curiously watch her every move… 
“we catch all of the flamingos up…do all of the physical exams…make sure they’re okay…give them vaccinations…draw blood…” 
sound of flamingo noises
It’s almost as if flamingos understand English.  Just mention needles and they go crazy… 
“it’s definetly a challenge…”
Doctor Ray Wack is a veterinarian at the Sacramento Zoo… 
“they’re still wild animals…they’ve gone through this routine about eight or nine times now…so they know what to expect but they’re not real happy about it…” 
Flamingos don’t like it when you upset their daily routine…but Doctor Wack says since they live in swamps and ponds where mosquitos hang out…yearly exams for West Nile Virus are necessary… 
“since we have been vaccinating we have not lost a single bird here…so I think it’s pretty darn effective…” 
“we’ve actually found other wild creatures here at the zoo dying from west nile so we just want to make sure that its contained and not transferring to any of our animals…” 
Christine Bui says keepers have found a few dead squirrels on zoo grounds infected with west nile virus.  They’re not part of the zoo’s collection…but the squirrels could infect other animals.
The zoo’s veterinarians also check out flamingos for parasites and injuries.
This bird gets a lot of attention because it may have suffered a minor injury to its wing… 
“we have one broken feather…"
They feel around on the wing and find some abnormal tissue growth…where a feather snapped off and may have become infected… 
"There’s this little follicle that’s hanging out there…I don’t know if it’s a trauma or whatever…but I just wanted you to see it..." 
For now, they decide to keep tabs on the the bird and see if the wound heals on its own. 
As for the other flamingos here…the veterinarians give them an overall good bill of health.  Although West Nile Virus is a threat… most of these birds have been living healthy happy lives at the Sacramento Zoo for more than 40 years.