Bears with bird flu? It’s happened in Montana
It seems like bears and "bird flu" are two completely different compass points in the Montana wildlife world.
But now, biologists with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks are confirming that three grizzlies in Northwest Montana died from the avian flu last fall.
The report comes after the experts finished analyzing the deaths of three juvenile grizzly bears who tested positive for the highly pathogenic virus, which is officially known as HPAI. The three bears were found near Augusta and Dupuyer on the Rocky Mountain Front, and near Kalispell.
FWP says the bears were "observed in poor condition", and were disoriented and showing partial blindness, and "other neurological issues." FWP staff euthanized the bears due to their "sickness and poor condition."
Now complete testing has proven the agencies' initial theories.
“We suspect these mammals probably get the virus from consuming infected birds,” said FWP Wildlife Veterinarian Jennifer Ramsey.
This is the first time the avian flu has ever been found in grizzly bears in a documented case. FWP says a fox and a skunk in Montana had also tested positive for HPAI in 2022. Biologists have also found evidence of the virus in raccoons, black bears, and coyotes in other states and other countries.
The avian flu is naturally occurring in bird populations. The virus can be deadly to both domesticated fowl and some species of wild birds.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention consider the risk of HPAI spreading to humans to be very low. But FWP says Montanans should take precautions when handling game birds, sick or dead birds, or mammals they come across. And as a good precaution, the state says people should avoid direct contact with any sick or dead wildlife.
FWP would like you to call if you have any unexplained or unusual cases of sickness or death of wild birds or animals by reaching out to a local biologist or calling the state's lab in Bozeman at 406-577-7880 or 406-577-7882.