Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary hit with bird flu


Vultures have spread avian influenza to Noah's Ark Animal Sanctuary. Stock image of a vulture.

Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary in Locust Grove, Georgia, is the latest in a string of sanctuaries to be hit hard by avian influenza, resulting in the euthanasia of animals.


On August 13, numerous dead vultures were found at Noah’s Ark. Staff tested the birds which later came back positive for H5N1, a strain of avian influenza that has wiped out more than 40 million captive birds across the country since February.


Animal Care Manager Allison Hedgecoth, who is currently suspended, went on the news with Senator Emanuel Jones to state that 700 vultures were found deceased on the property. Jones also issued a press release about the vultures. The Georgia Department of Agriculture and the sanctuary have not confirmed how many deceased vultures were found.


In a statement issued to media, Noah’s Ark wrote that the sanctuary developed an unusually large vulture roost over the past several years. The state agencies are leading the cleanup and disposal of the vultures.


The risk of human infection with avian influenza is low, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but it can be transmitted by wild birds, poultry, waterfowl and other bird and animal species.


The state Department of Agriculture, Department of Natural Resources and USDA have been on site since the vultures were found. They are depopulating much of the poultry at Noah’s Ark. The USDA website lists the number of birds depopulated at 90.


Agriculture officials across the county have been euthanizing poultry to prevent the flu from spreading. In March, officials in Derry, New Hampshire, euthanized 150 birds at a sanctuary. In May, officials in Kuna, Idaho, euthanized 60 birds at a farm sanctuary. Also in May, officials in West Valley City, Utah, seized more than 80 birds from a bird sanctuary and euthanized 70 of them.


The avian influenza outbreak at Noah’s Ark comes amidst an online smear campaign directed at the sanctuary board of directors and president Shelly Lakly, who was hired last November, by founder Jama Hedgecoth and her family after changes in administration.


The current administration said they’ve taken steps to add more staff and have tripled the veterinary staff.


“Noah’s Ark is committed to the safety and health of its people, animals and community,” they wrote. “We are diligently looking for quick resolutions and will continue to provide updates as they evolve."