The Gwalior zoo was closed after 15 of its 28 painted storks died in the past three days of avian influenza caused by the H5N8 virus, which has set off a health alarm after similar bird deaths in New Delhi.
The high security animal disease laboratory in Bhopal, where samples from the dead birds were sent, confirmed the disease as cause of death, Gwalior collector Sanjay Goyal said on Friday evening.
“Two samples tested positive for H5N8,” he said.
The collector convened an emergency meeting of senior officials to implement the bird flu protocol in the district.
The remaining 12 painted storks at the zoo have to be culled and safely disposed of, while poultry farms within 3km of the zoo have to keep their birds under surveillance.
The Gwalior administration has sought 100 protective kits from Bhopal for workers who will handle the birds and disinfect the area.
The state animal husbandry department has already sounded an alert across the state as human contact with sick birds could transmit the virus.
The Gwalior zoo has around 300 birds of different species, but this is the first time so many of a single species died in such a short time.
“Samples were also sent to a veterinary lab in Jabalpur,” Gwalior zoo official Dr Pradeep Srivastava said.
Painted storks, whose scientific name is Mycteria leucocephala, are generally found in wetlands across India. Their distinctive pink tertial feathers give them their name.
Wildlife experts said these storks are not migratory and have a limited territorial range.
Animal husbandry director RK Rokde said earlier in the day that confirmation of bird flu will attract additional measures such as culling of poultry.
Rokde, who is also state veterinary council’s president, said officials were asked to monitor bird populations, especially poultry, and immediately report any death.
Though the virus is destroyed during the cooking process, there are chances of people getting infected during handling of infected poultry, he explained.
More than 9,000 birds were culled in Madhya Pradesh during an outbreak in March 2006.
In case of an outbreak in regions outside Madhya Pradesh, the administration might have its task cut out to stop infected poultry entering or passing through in trucks and trains as most of the major highways and railway lines crisscross this centrally-located state.
Besides, the state hosts a sizeable number of migratory birds every winter.