Protecting Birds at the JMZ and New Discovery Programs

October 4, 2022

Hello Friends,

If you’ve visited the zoo recently, you may have noticed that the birds have been moved away from visitors for the time being. This is one of many steps the JMZ has taken to protect its vibrant bird collection from the current avian flu outbreak. For this newsletter, we spoke with John Aikin, executive director of the Palo Alto Junior Museum & Zoo, to learn more about the avian flu pandemic, what the zoo is doing to keep its birds safe, and what you can do to help. 

In the meantime, the JMZ has introduced Discovery Programs to highlight the many other animals who live at the zoo, including cichlids, ferrets, snapping turtles, other reptiles, bats, and more. I encourage you to attend a Discovery Program and learn something new about the many wonderful animals at the zoo!


Lauren Angelo

President, Friends of the Palo Alto Junior Museum & Zoo 

Photo of a Blue-Tongued Skink, Courtesy of Lois Tema Photography.

Preventing the Spread of Avian Flu and Spotlighting Other Animals

Interview with John Aikin, Executive Director of the JMZ


What is avian flu and what is the risk to the Junior Museum & Zoo’s bird collection? How long is this outbreak expected to last? 

Avian influenza or bird flu is a virus naturally spread among wild waterfowl that can be transmitted to other bird and animal species. Spread is normally caused by bird-to-bird contact, exposure to contaminated people, or through feed and equipment according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture. Each year, there is a flu season for birds, much like humans. The current outbreak of bird flu is particularly dangerous and can cause severe illness or death among flocks. That is why it is important we keep our birds at the JMZ safe from exposure to this strain.

The current outbreak is expected to last through this spring, and some scientists believe this strain may become endemic in the U.S. We are monitoring the severity of the outbreak locally and continually reassessing its risk to our birds. We are also making changes that help to minimize the risk. In the meantime, in lieu of flamingo feedings, we have introduced Discovery Programs in various locations throughout the zoo to highlight the mammals, reptiles and fish who live at the JMZ. 

A Current Discovery Program Schedule: Raccoon Talks are at 10:30 AM, Aquatic Talks are at 12:00 PM, Meerkat Talks are at 1:30 PM, and Reptile Talks are at 3:30 PM.

What is the JMZ doing to respond to the threat of avian flu?

In order to keep the JMZ’s bird collection safe and healthy, all birds at the zoo have been moved behind the scenes until the risk of transmitting avian flu is lowered. Flamingo feedings and interactions with any birds are not offered at this time. The wellbeing of our animals is the top priority of the JMZ, so we are taking a very conservative approach to ensuring our birds are not exposed to the current strain of bird flu. This means that among our staff, only zookeepers are permitted to be around our birds and they take special precautions, like keeping work shoes and clothes on site so they don’t inadvertently bring the virus to us. There are also sanitizing foot dips and other sanitizing protocols in place. 

What can visitors to the zoo expect while the birds are kept behind-the-scenes?  

During Discovery Programs, staff from the JMZ’s animal care team provide animals with portions of their daily diet, hide food in the animal’s habitat so visitors can watch them search, and may provide animals with toys or other types of behavior enrichment. Visitors also learn about the animals' routines, behaviors, adaptations, and personalities. Some Discovery Programs spotlight the species of animals living in zoo habitats, such as the slender-tailed meerkat, raccoon, or Lake Malawi cichlids.  

During Discovery Programs, visitors may also be introduced to one or more of the JMZ’s “Animal Ambassadors” who are trained to travel to local schools for our education programs. Our Ambassadors represent the diversity of animals at the JMZ and include arthropods, reptiles, birds, and mammals, all of which have understandable and interesting adaptations that provoke questioning and thinking from children. This month, we are debuting our newest Ambassadors in some of our programs, including the following species: cone-headed chameleon, giant gecko, common snapping turtle, and Virginia opossum. Depending on the program, we may also include our ever popular existing Ambassador species like the four-toed hedgehog, straw-colored fruit bat or domestic European ferret.

Although we are disappointed that our birds have to stay away from the public right now, this current outbreak has given us the opportunity to spotlight our interesting invertebrates, reptiles, and mammals while keeping our birds safe. We are thrilled for JMZ visitors to learn more about these animals and what makes them unique, especially those that are typically behind-the-scenes. 

One of Many Animal Ambassadors from the JMZ, a Four-Toed Hedgehog. Photo Courtesy of Lois Tema Photography.

What can we all do to help protect the JMZ’s bird collection?

Although people are unlikely to get sick with the current strain of bird flu, it is still important to take precautions before visiting the JMZ in order to protect our flock. We ask that visitors never visit the zoo immediately after exposure to wild migratory waterfowl. This can include a visit to the duck pond, Baylands, or a facility which has poultry or birds like a school, feed store, swap meet, bird market, fair, veterinary clinic, another zoo, bird refuge or bird hunting club. If you have backyard chickens or pet birds that live outdoors at home, we ask you to plan your visit after this avian flu outbreak is over. We recommend avoiding feeding or providing baths for wild birds at this time because it can help spread the flu. 

Thank you for joining us in keeping our birds safe!

Friends of the Palo Alto Junior Museum & Zoo

[email protected] | www.friendsjmz.org


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