Owls rehabilitated at San Diego Zoo Safari Park

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SAN DIEGO — Two family groups of burrowing owls were brought to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park to receive treatment for a dangerous parasite, zoo officials announced Tuesday.

Researchers with the zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research have been studying local owl populations since 2013.

In recent weeks, they noticed that some birds showed visible infestation of the sticktight flea, a parasite commonly found in poultry. It’s likely at least one owl died because of the fleas, according to researchers.

Zoo personnel teamed last month with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials to care for the infested owls, many in critical condition, at the Safari Park medical center. They were rehabilitated before eventually being released back into the wild.

Simultaneously, institute researchers worked with Safari Park Integrated Pest Management staff to reduce the amount of parasites 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, associate director of veterinary services for the 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.”

Burrowing owls are becoming increasingly rare in San Diego County.

Observing and learning about the species is critical to its protection in Southern California, said Mendel Stewart, field supervisor for the Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Service office.

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