The San Antonio Zoo’s Kronkosky’s Tiny Tot Nature Spot and the Riverbank Beach have been forced to close for several months because hundreds of egrets began nesting in nearby trees and covered the area with bird droppings.
The bird droppings pose an obvious health risk to children and visitors, so the Riverbank Beach was drained a few weeks ago to prevent visitors from coming in contact with bird droppings which could potentially be contaminated with disease. At first, The San Antonio Zoo planned to physically remove the egrets over the coming months and cut back their tree habitat.
That didn’t seem to work, zoo officials said.
As of last week, San Antonio Zoo spokesperson Stacy McReynolds said the zoo decided to let nature run its course and allow the birds to finish nesting through the end of October.
Next year the egrets won’t find nesting spots in the trees above the highly-trafficked play area.
“It’s a conflict between habitat issues and people issues,” said Susan Hughes, a conservation consultant. “It’s not the birds’ fault, but it is a health issue.”
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the associated hazards with bird droppings are the organisms that grow in the droppings and the insects that live on them. Two of the most common fungal diseases associated with bird droppings are histoplasmosis, a disease transmitted to humans by airborne spores contaminated by bird droppings, and cryptococcosis, a disease found on debris near pigeon roosts and contaminated soil.
Although both fungal diseases are mild and are accompanied by little or no symptoms, they still pose a health risk to humans. Other associated diseases are psittacosis and toxoplasmosis, which are generally mild but in rare cases can make a human extremely ill and possibly lead to death.
The San Antonio Zoo was able to obtain a permit from the city and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service which allowed the zoo to remove and relocate the native egrets. The permit not also allowed the zoo to thin tree canopies, discourage birds from nesting, and remove nests and eggs.
When the issue initially arose a few weeks ago, the San Antonio Zoo was in no mood to let the egrets roost. The pan then was to remove all egrets and nests, and relocate them to a different facility.
The permit obtained by the zoo from the city and U.S. Fish and Wildlife permitted the removal of 300 egrets. Zoo staff removed 230 birds from one tree in a single day.
Initial reports of the egret removal prompted some concern from local bird advocates. Does the zoo care more about entertainment than animals?
“This is not a normal practice. We don’t normally go in and remove nests. The reason this year was because it was really, really bad and a health risk to guests,” explained McReynolds. “This is not part of the conservation effort.”
After the San Antonio Audubon Society meeting on June 5, bird advocates came to the conclusion that the birds were in fact posing a health risk that needed to be addressed. At the he meeting it was agreed the best next step was to contribute donations to the Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation center, which will care for the relocated birds.
Citizens can write to officeholders, businesses and the media demanding strong tax-funded conservation easement programs. Individuals can make donations to groups that buy wetlands and wetlands easements, such as Ducks Unlimited and The Nature Conservancy.
Once the egrets have finished nesting, the zoo plans on cleaning up – and there will be a lot to clean.
The cleanup will entail removing sand, replanting dead plants and trees, replacing sunfish killed by egret droppings and urine, and power-washing surfaces.
“We’re talking thousands of dollars in cleanup,” McReynolds said.
The San Antonio Zoo will create a plan to discourage the egrets from nesting there in the future by trimming trees and removing nests at first sighting.
“This is an area where kids play,” McReyonlds said. “We are going to make sure they don’t nest there again.”