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Avian flu found in deceased mountain lion near Gunnison

 Colorado Parks and Wildlife found HPAI in a mountain lion near Gunnison in January 2023
Colorado Parks and Wildlife
Colorado Parks and Wildlife found HPAI in a mountain lion near Gunnison in January 2023

Colorado Parks and Wildlife recently identified several cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza, in free ranging wildlife, including a black bear in Huerfano County, and a mountain lion in Gunnison County.

The presence of highly pathogenic avian influenza or HPAI found in a deceased mountain lion near Gunnison was confirmed in a lab at Colorado State University, as well as the National Veterinary Services lab in Ames, Iowa.

“This Gunnison mountain lion was found dead just outside of city limits on January 15th. This is an area where we frequently do see mountain lion activity. The mountain lion had necrosis of the liver and pneumonia which have been seen in domestic cats that have HPAI, so our staff thought they should send it in for testing,” said John Livingston, spokesperson for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

CPW is conducting a mountain lion density study across the Gunnison area. As part of this project, mountain lions receive a collar with GPS technology. Signals are used to understand how many lions are in the area. In addition, the tracking collars can also produce mortality signals when a lion dies.

“That's what we got with this lion in this case. So our staff went out to assess the condition of the dead mountain lion and decided that they should send it in for HPAI testing. We have seen a number of mammalian wildlife species across the country test positive including skunks, foxes, black bears, bobcats, coyotes and raccoons, among a lot of others that we do see in Colorado,” said Livingston.

While Livingston says,” It's not super common to see mammal HPAI cases.” Animals typically become infected by feeding on wild birds that are sick or have died of avian influenza.

“It is important to note that not every mammal that does consume a sick bird will develop symptoms or or be infected with HPAI. This is primarily a disease that's affecting wild and domestic bird populations, including thousands of wild birds in the United States and Colorado,” he said.

The first confirmed Colorado case of HPAI was found in a wild goose in Northeast Colorado, in March of 2022. The disease has since been found in all four major migratory flyways in North America. The bird flu was detected last month in the geese population at Confluence Park in Delta, Colorado.

Livingston said the Avian Flu is expected to continue through the spring migration. He added that people need to remember that virus is first and foremost a disease among bird species, and while it is unlikely to transmit to mammals, wherever waterfowl can be found HPAI is expected to be present.

“The number of mammal cases are currently low and the majority of cases confirmed during these HPAI outbreaks are in wild and domestic birds, the most commonly affected birds in Colorado have been geese as well as a few raptors and other scavenging birds that eat goose carcasses,” Livingston said.

CPW stresses the importance of keeping your pets and yourself away from wildlife and not handling sick or dead birds. Although rare, some HPAI strains can infect people. More information on the virus can be found on the Centers for Disease Control’s website at

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Lisa Young