A zoo official has alleged that the San Francisco Zoo had knowingly imported parakeets with a contagious and commonly fatal bird disease for an exhibit encouraging human interaction .
While the disease is not infectious cannot to humans bird lovers are concerned that the virus which causes psittacine beak and feather disease could pose a threat to family pets. The ailment can attack a bird's immune system causing abnormal feather growth and beak deformities. No known cure exists for the disease.
So far five parakeets of the Binnowee Landing exhibit have tested positive for the disease. The exhibit allows birds to land on visitors in the walk-in aviary.
According to head veterinarian Freeland Dunker test results on the birds were available since May 11, two weeks before they arrived from Australia for the June 8 exhibit opening. The five infected parakeets are still on display and have not been isolated from the rest of the 607-member flock.
'We've done exhaustive risk analysis for this,' said Bob Jenkins, director of animal care and conservation at the zoo. 'There's no reason for anyone to be fearful of this exhibit.'
However several bird owners have vowed to stay away from the exhibit over fears that the disease would spread to pets.
Jenkins has said that the zoo installed hand-sanitizing stations and employees must warn visitors about possible infection. Jenkins has assured visitors who own psittacines would have no trouble as long as they sanitize their hands after visiting the zoo birds, clean their shoes, shower thoroughly and wash their clothes and hair.