Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Trying to save the baby pelicans

Baby pelicans: oil-spill orphans
WWL-TV Eyewitness News

FORT JACKSON -- Nearly 700 oil-covered birds have come through the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center at Fort Jackson.

Workers there said about 80 percent of them are surviving. But they're not all adults. The center has a number of baby pelicans separated from their parents.
Veterinary intern Dr. Leslie Pence is used to treating birds at the West Esplanade Veterinary Clinic in Metairie. But lately, she has a weekend gig cleaning oil-covered pelicans at Fort Jackson.

“I was there when they started getting some of the babies, the little hatchlings in, probably ten or so,” Pence said.

Now workers are caring for 75 baby pelicans that are kept in a pen outside.
“They are cute. They sound like little pterodactyls,” Pence said.

“They're the more aggressive, everybody that's been bitten has been bitten by a baby. They think they're friendly and they snap you right in the face,” said director of the Wildlife Rehab Center, Jay Holcomb.

The baby pelicans are the orphans of the oil spill, separated from their parents, removed from the only islands they've ever known.

But this is not the first time the workers at Fort Jackson have cleaned oil off Louisiana birds.

In 2005, two months before Katrina, oil spilled into Breton Sound.

“During a storm, all the adults leave, and the babies stay. So, they got covered in oil. We picked up a thousand birds, and we only released 250 of those because they were burned from the oil, from the sun,” Holcomb said about the event that taught him how to care for the pelicans.

So far, the center has treated and released 250 birds in Texas; 72 more were scheduled for release in Georgia today.

The question now is what to do with the babies.

In '05, workers raised the babies back on the islands that were cleaned of oil, but in this case, the oil is still gushing.

According to Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries, BP's contractor that runs the site is still trying to find an extended rehab facility for them.

“The big ones are getting really big and in a few weeks, they'll start test-flying. So, we want them out before then. So, we're pushing the agencies to go faster and get this plan going,” Holcomb said.

And much like saving them, it's a race against time, before there's too much human contact and they can't survive back in the wild on their own.
Holcomb said experts used the same technique to bring back the brown pelican population in Louisiana.

They fed them in their natural habitat until they could fly and kept them near adult pelicans so they can see how to catch fish on their own.

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