This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The Sugar House Park pond was the picture of tranquility on Tuesday, with ducks and geese wading in and out. But the calm was deceptive, for a disease known as avian botulism is killing birds that live in the water.
"It's not harmful to humans, [but] people are encouraged to stay away from the dead animals," said Callie Birdsall, spokeswoman for the Salt Lake County Parks and Recreation. "Don't handle the birds and don't let children play with the birds."
She said there is no public-health threat, and there has been no discussion of closing the park. "The only way you can get sick is if you ate the bird."
Birdsall had no estimates on the number of bird deaths, but said in recent days the park has seen from one to a dozen per day.
Avian botulism is a paralytic disease caused by ingestion of a toxin produced by the bacteria Clostridium botulinum, and is common nationwide, according to the National Wildlife Health Center. Decomposing vegetation and organisms combine with warm temperatures to cultivate the bacteria and trigger the production of toxin, which birds ingest from water or from eating maggots or flies.
DaLyn Marthaler, executive director for the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah in Ogden, said members of the public have brought her eight sick ducks from the park.
"One duck passed away and the seven others are in stable conditions," Marthaler said. "One duck is still very weak."
Marthaler said the ducks are being treated with an activated kaolin charcoal to relieve their stomachs of the toxins.
Park crews were on the water Tuesday morning in boats cleaning the pond, as they do three or four times a week, Birdsall said.
The Sugar House Park Authority is looking into long-term plans to redesign the pond in a way that keeps people away from the birds, which would require funding and two to five years of planning.