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MARS Wildlife Centre shutting to the public because of avian flu threat

The MARS Wildlife Centre north of Courtenay is closing to the public temporarily after avian influenza was found this week in a small poultry flock in the Comox Valley.
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Brinley, a great horned owl, lives at the MARS Wildlife Centre in Merville. Credit: MARS Wildlife Centre

The MARS Wildlife Centre north of Courtenay is closing to the public temporarily after avian influenza was found this week in a small poultry flock in the Comox Valley.

As of Monday, the visitor centre and gift shop will not be accessible to visitors.

“Our commitment to the safety and well-being of our resident ambassador birds (eagles, owls and crows) and wildlife patients is our first priority, and we hope that this additional precautionary measure will help reduce the risk of on-site transmission of the virus,” Gyl Andersen, centre manager of wildlife rehabilitation, said in a statement.

The Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society worries that needed donations to operate the centre will drop during the time the centre is closed, at a time of year when expenses rise.

Andersen is asking supporters to donate to its animal care fund.

It is “baby season” and the influx of injured and orphaned baby birds, raccoon kits, and other small mammals has begun, Andersen said.

The largest expenses at this time of year are food and nursery supplies. Also needed are personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies to combat viruses.

The Canadian Food Inspection agency confirmed Wednesday that Vancouver Island’s first case of the H5N1 virus was found in the small flock, which may have been infected by migrating wild birds.

Increased bio-security measures have been put in place to protect birds at the centre, where the wildlife hospital remains open, Andersen said.

Sanitizing footbaths, a separate patient admission building, quarantine zones for different species, and covering the ambassador enclosures are among safety measures implemented.

Anyone bringing an injured animal to the Merville centre must remain in their vehicle and call the hospital at 250-337-2021, extension 0. to speak to rehabilitation staff, who will come and collect the animal.

The centre said dead birds cannot be brought to the centre. Call the bird hotline at 1-866-431-2473 for advice.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com