WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah (ABC4) – A man was arrested and booked into Salt Lake County Jail Friday for housing and rehabilitating wild birds, according to the Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR).
An investigation lead by DWR, and assisted by West Valley City Police, the Salt Lake County Health Department and the Utah Department of Agriculture resulted in a raid on an unlicensed man housing wild birds.
The threat of Avian Flu was a cause of great concern, officials say, and authorities involved wore PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), or hazmat-like suits, while raiding the suspect’s bird center.
The raid was conducted Friday morning, and Faith Jolley, DWR public information officer, says there was possibly “a large number of birds.”
She specifies that Avian Flu was not immediately suspected there, but due to the contagiousness and danger of the flu, authorities exercised an abundance of caution during the raid.
Utah wildlife rehabilitation centers are reportedly even refusing to take in any domestic, farm-raised, or wild birds because of the threat of Avian Flu.
Avian influenza viruses naturally occur in wild birds, especially waterfowl and shorebirds, according to DWR.
The virus is reportedly spread among birds through nasal and oral discharges and fecal droppings and can persist in the environment for long periods of time.
High pathogenic avian influenza viruses are very contagious among birds and can cause rapid and high mortality in domestic poultry, such as chickens and domestic ducks, DWR states.
DWR says wildlife rehabilitators are at the highest risk of highly pathogenic avian influenza entering your facility, due to taking in sick birds.
The new, highly pathogenic Avian Flu appeared in January 2022, and DWR stated that the first wild and domestic birds that tested positive were on the East Coast, and that the virus has since spread west into Utah.
In April 2022, the strain was confirmed in domestic birds in Utah after a backyard flock of poultry in Utah County tested positive. In May, it was confirmed in wild birds in Utah after a great horned owl in Cache County tested positive.
As of June 8, 25 wild birds have tested positive for Avian Flu in various areas of Utah, including Cache, Weber, Salt Lake, Utah, Tooele and Carbon counties. The birds include Canada geese, great horned owls, hawks, pelicans, turkey vultures and ducks. Two red foxes in Salt Lake County have also tested positive.
Experts say to please keep your distance and contact DWR if you encounter a sick or injured bird.
Click here to access the DWR’s Avian Influenza Dashboard.