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Avian Cholera Hits Great Salt Lake

April 1, 2008.

From the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources:

Don't be surprised if you see of hundreds of dead birds along the southeastern shore of the Great Salt Lake during the next few weeks.

More than 15,000 birds died on the lake last fall. Most of the birds were eared grebes.

Testing done at the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisconsin has confirmed that the birds died of avian cholera. Avian cholera is a disease that sweeps through grebes and other birds on the lake almost every year.

"Avian cholera is caused by a common bacteria that's found all across the country," says Leslie McFarlane, wildlife disease coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources. "When the conditions are right, avian cholera takes off. It can spread through a bird population quickly."

Even though the birds died last fall, the salt water in the lake has preserved their carcasses. "The birds you see along the shore of the Great Salt Lake may look like they died recently, but they've actually been dead for several months," McFarlane says.

McFarlane says the bacteria that causes avian cholera does not affect people or other mammals, including dogs. And because the birds have been dead for so long, their carcasses don't pose a threat to other birds. "The birds have been dead long enough that their carcasses no longer carry the bacteria," she says.

Once the carcasses wash onto the beach, they should decompose quickly. "We won't be picking the birds up," McFarlane says. "Die-offs like this are part of nature, and we'll let nature take its course as far as taking care of the birds that died."

For more information, call the Division of Wildlife Resources Salt Lake City office at (801) 538-4700.

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