San Diego

Burrowing Owls Infected With Parasite Brought to Safari Park for Care

The burrowing owls received treatment from the Safari Park for an infestation of the sticktight flea

Two families of an increasingly rare type of owl in San Diego have been released back into the wild after being cared for at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

The burrowing owls, who live underground in burrows dug out by small mammals, received treatment from the Safari Park for an infestation of a parasite called sticktight flea, which is commonly found in poultry. The owls are part of a population being researched through a joint effort between San Diego Zoo and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“We treated two families of burrowing owls that we brought in from the wild,” said Colleen Wisinski, conservation program specialist for San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research (ICR). “We wanted to make sure these owls would survive this incident and, working with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and California Department of Fish and Wildlife, we decided to bring them in for treatment.”

In recent weeks ICR researchers noticed the owls showed a visible infestation of the parasite and they believe at least one owl died as a result.

“The work being done to observe, learn about and protect this population is important to maintaining the species in San Diego and throughout Southern California,” said Mendel Stewart, field supervisor for the Service’s Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office.

Members of the ICR team worked with the Safari Park while the owls were in the Safari Park’s care to reduce the parasites in the area where the birds live.

“We found all of the birds had some degree of flea infestation, with two adults suffering from severe anemia,” said Lauren Howard DVM, Associate Director of Veterinary Services, San Diego Zoo Safari Park. “We are not just treating the fleas but we are looking at what might be underlying causes of this infestation so we can get these birds back into the wild.”

A couple of the owls were in critical condition when they arrived at the Safari Park’s medical center, but they responded well to treatment and were released with the other birds back into their habitat.

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