Bird flu reportedly kills 700 vultures at Noah’s Ark in Henry County

Bird flu graphic.
Bird flu graphic.(MGN)
Published: Aug. 22, 2022 at 11:43 AM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) - More than 700 wild black vultures were recently found deceased at Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary in Locust Grove, according to Sen. Emanuel Jones.

The Georgia Department of Agriculture believes that the birds are victims of H5N1 avian influenza. GDA officials have been at the sanctuary throughout the weekend. Georgia Department of Agriculture Policy Director Bo Warren said the agency was working with other state, federal and local agencies to “assess the situation.”

Many ostriches, emu, parrots, etc. are expected to be humanely euthanized in the near future as a result of the outbreak, according to the senator’s press release. However, this has not been confirmed with Noah’s Ark or the Department of Agriculture at this time.

According to a notice posted on the sanctuary’s Facebook page, they will be closed Aug. 23 through Aug. 27. They did not explain why they will be closed in their post.

Jones released the following statement:

“I am deeply saddened at the news of the latest developments unfolding at Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary. The animals and staff deserve the highest level of care during these difficult times and I fully intend to do all I can to continue to bring awareness and support to this life-saving sanctuary,” said Sen. Jones. “On behalf of the Henry County Delegation, it is our mission to provide the upmost respect and dedication to the animals and staff and Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary to help combat the devastating events that have unfolded at such a wonderful place.”

Noah’s Ark has also released a statement about the situation:

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 or Federal officials. Our No. 1 priority is the safety and health of animals and our community.

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 and Federal officials daily since that time. The risk of human infection with avian influenza is very low.

On 8/20/22 the State and Federal teams 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 transmitted to poultry and waterfowl (source Noah’s Ark is and will remain in close collaboration with authorities as they lead the charge to manage this. As a precaution the affected birds on property have been depopulated. Officials are testing and monitoring other birds within the surveillance area and no other birds have tested positive or experienced any clinical signs.

Understandably, we will be closed to the public during the response. We appreciate the timely and professional response of our Federal and State officials. Noah’s Ark is committed to the safety and health of its people, animals, and community. We are diligently looking for quick resolutions and will continue to provide updates as they evolve.

The sanctuary has been at the center of controversy, including a hearing on Aug. 17. The current Noah’s Ark president, Shelly Lakly, has been accused of mismanagement that has endangered the animals at the sanctuary. Additionally, there has been tension between Noah’s Ark founder Jama Hedgecoth and current Noah’s Ark board chair Glenn Ross.

Ross has been accused of stacking the board with allies who now help him control the operations and the board met recently to remove some of the sanctuary’s key members and doctors, according to the Henry County Times.

H5N1, also known as the bird flu, is highly contagious.

A county in Northern California recently declared a health emergency after a large outbreak among 1,500 privately-owned birds, according to the Sacramento Bee. It’s also believed that the virus is killing seals in Quebec.

More than 40 million birds have been affected by the virus in 39 states this year, according to the USD.

Almost 500 birds belonging to a backyard producer in Toombs County were affected in June of this year.

However, Warren said, “the risk of spread to animals and our human population remains low.”

Georgia’s Department of Agriculture has a hotline for bird owners who think their birds may have influenza. The phone number is 770-766-6850. Testing is free through the Georgia Poultry Lab Network.