Three juvenile grizzly bears in Montana were euthanized after they tested positive for highly pathogenic avian influenza, or 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, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks said in the news release Tuesday.
The bears are thought to have eaten birds that had the highly contagious virus, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Wildlife Veterinarian Jennifer Ramsey said in a statement.
The bears were found near Augusta, Dupuyer and Kalispell, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks 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 Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. In other states and countries, the virus has been detected in black bears, raccoons and coyotes. A Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesperson said more birds had recently tested positive as well.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks 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).