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Bird disease cancels release of 2,400 pheasants

Avian cholera infecting the flock

By: Marc Stempka

HARRISBURG -- The Pennsylvania Game Commission announced the cancellation of pheasant releases due to a bird disease that inflected a flock set for late-season hunting release.

Game Commission officials said 2,400 pheasants were placed under quarantine following the detection of avian cholera at a Loyalsock Game Farm, prompting them not to release the birds for hunting.

The Game Commission advised that avian cholera is an infectious disease that affects domestic and wild birds and is the most common infectious disease in wild waterfowl in North America.

The strain diagnosed at the farm, located outside of Williamsport, last week was considered by veterinarians to be a mild strain with relatively low levels of daily mortality. Following detection, Game Commission staff consulted animal and wildlife health experts at Penn State and elsewhere, who advised treating the infected flock with antibiotics prior to a subsequent release.

The antibiotic treatments proved effective and daily mortality of the birds had decreased but, given the risk that some surviving birds could still carry the bacterium that cause the disease, the Game Commission reconsidered its decision to release the birds.

The quarantined flock will be euthanized using carbon dioxide chambers and disposed of by deep burial on the farm, officials said.

Game Commission records showed that an avian cholera outbreak in Pennsylvania's wild bird populations has never been documented. However, the disease is diagnosed annually at about a dozen poultry and game bird production facilities statewide, but this is the first occurrence at a Game Commission game farm in nearly a decade.

Game Commission Executive Director Carl G. Roe said the decision to destroy the flock was carefully considered and was frustrating. The birds are paid for through furtaker and hunting licenses and are raised for the sole purpose of releasing them to hunters.

"In this case, however, we felt we had to cut our losses and minimize the risk to wildlife populations," Roe said.

Officials said rodents and mammalian predators are suspected bacterium sources in this outbreak and we will be reviewing and upgrading our disease vector control protocols, as well as our other biosecurity protocols and standards.

"As always, we will be taking the appropriate biosecurity steps to ensure a clean facility," Roe said.

The 2,400 birds placed under quarantine had been slated for release Dec. 20 in Berks, Bucks, Carbon, Chester, Clearfield, Cumberland, Franklin, Lehigh, Monroe and Montgomery counties, officials said.

Even without those pheasants, the Game Commission released 218,000 pheasants statewide, passing their goal of releasing more than 200,000 pheasants this year.

Pheasant season is closed Christmas Day, but otherwise runs until Feb. 22.

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Edgar Snyder

Washington Times