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PA pheasants to be put down

December 30, 2013

WILLIAMSPORT, PA — About 2,400 pheasants placed under quarantine following detection of avian cholera at a Pennsylvania game farm will not be released for late-season hunting. According to a press release from the Pennsylvania Fish and Game Commission (PFGC), “arrangements are being made to humanely depopulate and dispose of the affected flock at the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Loyalsock Game Farm.”

Avian cholera is an infectious bacterial disease affecting domestic and wild birds, and is the most significant infectious disease of wild waterfowl in North America.

Avian cholera is diagnosed annually at about a dozen poultry and game-bird production facilities in the commonwealth, but this is the first occurrence at a PFGC game farm in nearly a decade. An avian cholera outbreak in Pennsylvania’s wild bird populations has never been documented.

The strain diagnosed at Loyalsock Game Farm last week is considered by veterinarians to be a mild strain with relatively low levels of daily mortality. Following detection, PFGC 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 have proven effective and daily mortality of birds has decreased to baseline levels in the flock, but given the risk that some surviving birds could remain carriers of the bacteria causing the disease, the game commission has reconsidered its earlier decision and chosen to abandon plans to release the pheasants.

PFGC executive director Carl G. Roe said the decision was not made lightly. The commission raises pheasants for the sole purpose of releasing them, and providing a valued small-game hunting opportunity for hunters, Roe said.

Propagation is a significant investment, funded in large part by revenues from the sale of hunting and furtaker licenses, he said. And it’s frustrating when that end product can’t be given back to hunters, he said.

“In this case, however, we felt we had to cut our losses and minimize the risk to wildlife populations,” Roe said, adding even the slight chance a released bird could continue to carry the disease is a risk PFGC staff currently is unwilling to take.
The quarantined flock will be euthanized using carbon-dioxide chambers and disposed of by deep burial on the farm.