THE country’s top wildlife park has been forced to put down its entire flock of ostriches after a health scare.
Bosses at Fota Wildlife Park in Cork took the decision to euthanise the animals to safeguard the health of its remaining collection of 35 bird species, numbering some 400 birds.
The park could be without ostriches, the largest of all living birds, for up to 12 months while the search for replacements gets under way.
Fota director Dr David Gibson confirmed last night that all the ostriches were put down last week after a routine health scan revealed some of them may have been carrying avian tuberculosis (TB).
It is one of the most common diseases affecting wild birds and is so common, it is not even a notifiable disease.
Following consultation between the park’s experts and department of agriculture veterinary experts, it was decided to put the ostriches down to ensure there was no spread of the disease to the rest of Fota’s wild bird population.
The animals were put down humanely last week, Dr Gibson said.
“It was a deeply regrettable action but it’s the only sensible and professional way to safeguard the welfare of the rest of the park’s wild bird population,” he said.
“It’s just one of those things that goes with the management of a collection of animals.”
The ostriches which displayed signs of the disease were bought in as replacements in recent weeks following the death of a male ostrich about four months ago.
That bird died from injuries sustained in a fight over territory with a scimitar-horned oryx, a type of desert antelope, with whom the ostriches share a compound.
Fota bosses bought a male and two female ostriches from a private collection in Ireland to replace the dead bird.
However, it was discovered the replacements could be possible carriers of the potentially devastating avian TB.
Once the disease appears, it is virtually impossible to eradicate it. Eventual death is the usual outcome.
Dr Gibson said Fota is planning to embark on an international search for ostrich eggs to replace the dead animals.
It is hoped the park will buy in a number of ostrich eggs, incubate them and then hatch new animals. But it could take up to a year for the search process to unfold.
The ostrich is not an endangered species but is considered by most zoos and wildlife parks as a good display and educational species. Wild ostriches were nearly wiped out in the 18th century by feather collectors.
Fota Wildlife Park was opened in 1983 by President Patrick Hillery and is a joint project of the Zoological Society of Ireland and University College Cork.
It reported a 7% rise in visitor numbers compared to the same period last year with a record half-term attendance of 161,214. Park memberships are also up 7% and members’ visits are up 25% on this time last year.
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