Big Sky Roundup

First documented cases of highly contagious bird flu identified in 3 Montana grizzlies

By: - January 17, 2023 5:19 pm

Grizzly bear (Courtesy of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service).

Three juvenile grizzly bears in Montana were euthanized after they tested positive for highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) last fall in what the state says were the first documented cases of the virus in grizzly bears, according to a news release from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

The bears were euthanized because they were in “poor condition” — showing signs of partial blindness, disorientation and neurological issues, FWP said in the news release Tuesday.

The bears are thought to have eaten birds that had the highly contagious virus, FWP Wildlife Veterinarian Jennifer Ramsey said in a statement.

The bears were found near Augusta, Dupuyer and Kalispell, FWP said in the release. The department added that they were the first documented cases of HPAI identified in grizzly bears. The virus was found in brown bears in Alaska late last year, Alaska Public Media reported.

HPAI has also been found in a fox and skunk in Montana, according to FWP. In other states and countries, the virus has been detected in black bears, raccoons and coyotes. An FWP spokesperson said more birds had recently tested positive as well.

FWP said it urges people to avoid contact with sick or dead wildlife and to report any “unusual or unexplained” sicknesses or deaths of wild birds and animals to their local wildlife biologist or the wildlife lab in Bozeman (406-577-7880 or 406-577-7882).

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Blair Miller
Blair Miller

Blair Miller is a reporter based in Helena who primarily covers government, climate and courts. He's been a journalist for more than 12 years, previously based in Denver, Albuquerque and mid-Missouri.