For the past several months, the news stories have been pouring in regarding the horrifying oil spill in the Gulf region. The spill, which began on April 20th of this year, has essentially affected four coastal states, Louisiana, Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi. It has claimed the lives of 11 workers and is being touted as the worst oil disaster in the nation’s history.
The terrible spill has not only wrecked havoc on the lives of fishermen, but also on beachgoers, residents and wildlife. In fact, hundreds of wildlife species have lost their lives due to the heavy drench of oil. BP, who is being held personally responsible for the catastrophe, has been employing various containment measures to deal with the spewing oil. However, despite the use of booms, coastal barriers and skimmers, BP has experienced much difficulty in preventing the flow of oil.
Among the wildlife species affected by the continuous spew are dolphins, crabs, sea turtles, shrimp, and a wide variety of birds, including pelicans. A few short weeks ago, Chicago’s Brookfield Zoo retrieved five oil-covered pelicans from the Jackson Zoo. Jackson Zoo is located in the Mississippi Canyon area, just off the Louisiana coastline.
These white pelicans had suffered injuries prior to the Gulf oil spill, which prevented them from performing their annual spring migration to the north. When the spill occurred, the birds’ feathers became oil-soaked, trapping them in their natural habitat. Volunteer vets working for the International Bird Rescue Research Center, who were enthusiastic about treating the birds for their injuries, also cleaned their beaks, performed X-rays of their entire bodies, (checking for liver, kidney and digestive problems), and otherwise cared for the birds until they could find a permanent residence. That’s where Brookfield Zoo came in.
Mr. Tim Snyder who is the curator of birds for the Chicago Zoological Society (CZS) promised to ensure excellent care of the pelicans. (CZS manages Brookfield Zoo). Snyder added that the zoo will keep a close eye on the birds in order to collect important information on their health. He further stated that he ‘hopes these pelicans will act as representatives of their wildlife counterparts, so that zoo visitors will gain accurate knowledge about the exact effects of the Gulf oil spill on other wildlife.’ This will also give zoo officials some idea as to the impact of the spill, so that they can assist in future rescue missions.
The North American Pelican is one of America’s largest birds, weighing up to 20 pounds and measuring four to six feet long, on average. Their wing span is 9 feet and their extensive beaks are generally over a foot in length. Closely resembling the appearance of a duck, the pelican’s beak, short stem-like legs, and webbed feet are all a shade of orange. While their exact gender is unknown, the zoo has determined three of the pelicans to be adults, and the other two are considered to be pre-adult age.
While the white pelican is not considered to be an ‘endangered’ species, their population increase has been threatened by such issues as boating disturbances, nest site disturbances, and injuries to their plumage caused by discarded fishing lines and plastics.
In addition to Brookfield, three other zoos were set to participate in the acquisition of pelicans from Jackson Zoo. Following a more thorough examination and a thirty day quarantine, the pelicans were expected to be placed on permanent exhibit in Brookfield Zoo’s Formal Pool area.