We are almost into July and have just taken in our 600th bird here in Louisiana at the Fort Jackson Bird Rehabilitation Center. The majority of those birds have come into the center in the last 2 weeks when a section of oil was carried to shore near Grand Isle, LA and impacted many brown pelicans and other smaller bird species. We currently have about 300 clean and beautiful brown pelicans outside in large cages getting ready for release. They are starting to be released today in groups and we will continue to release them twice a week until they are all gone. There are currently about 100 oiled pelicans in the building waiting to be washed and some smaller species of birds such as gulls and herons.
The heat here is very difficult to work in but everyone is doing well and moving the birds through the rehabilitation process. We have set up specific times for the media to come and film the birds and the work so that it limits the stress on people and animals. The media has been very cooperative with us.
I play a few roles here in Ft. Jackson and one is the External Affairs role that puts me in touch with the media and the world at large so I thought I would take this opportunity to answer some of the main questions that I am being asked daily.
Question: Where the pelicans are going to be released?
Answer: The pelicans are being flown to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. Will they come back to Louisiana? There is that possibility but the US Fish & Wildlife Service has determined that this is the best place to release them at this time. It is a long way from the spill so we are hoping that they stay in the area, at least for a while. The smaller inland birds are being released in the Sherburne Wildlife Management Area just north of Lafayette as they become ready.
Q: How long is IBRRC and Tri-State Bird Rescue going to be in the Gulf of Mexico helping care for the birds?
A: Well, as long as the oil is gushing from the earth and birds are at risk of getting oiled then we will be here.
Q: Is BP supporting your efforts to care for the oiled birds?
A: Yes, BP is the responsible party and is paying for all the costs associated with the care and rehabilitation of oiled birds. IBRRC and Tri-State Bird Rescue are hired to manage the rehabilitation program for the oiled birds from this spill so in actuality we are contractors for BP.
Q: What will the success rate be for oiled brown pelicans?
A: It’s impossible to predict the future but these are very healthy and strong birds and have a good chance at surviving the rehabilitation process. The majority of these birds are handling the stress of oiling, washing and rehabilitation extremely well, as expected. Over 300 of them have been cleaned and are in outside aviaries at this time getting ready for release. Brown pelicans typically have a high survival rate in oil spills when they are captured early on and given the appropriate care, as has happened here to date. I expect the majority of them to make it but time will tell and we will report on these birds as we move through the spill.
Q: How can people help or donate?
A: Well, as I have said before, we currently have plenty of help and are not in need of volunteers. As well as the Tri-State and IBRRC response teams, wildlife paraprofessionals from the Gulf Coast States are supplementing our workforce. In Louisiana, this is being coordinated by LSART (Louisiana State Animal Response Team).
Regarding donating to the cause, there are pelicans and thousands of other wild animals all over the country that need help and are cared for by wildlife rehabilitators. I urge everyone to locate their local wildlife rehabilitation organization and support them and their great work in helping our precious wildlife get a second chance at life. Check with your state department of Fish and Game and they can help you locate a worthy wildlife rehabilitation organization.
Beware of the NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) that claim they are raising money to help either restore the gulf or set up mass volunteer networks for spill response. Everyone wants a piece of this pie and a number of these groups who have never done much about oil spill response in the past are now asking for money, holding fundraising events, telethons etc. and using many tactics including celebrity endorsement and the media. They are opportunistic and take advantage of every oil spill or big disaster and I strongly urge you just to be cautious. Before you donate ask how and where your money will be spent before you give.
Again, the real unsung and under-funded heroes who help wildlife around this country are the wildlife rehabilitation organizations who work 24/7 to care for our precious wildlife. They are hands on, on the front lines and the results of their efforts can be witnessed every time they release a rehabilitated animal back into the wild. My strong suggestion is that you support these organizations if you really want to help wildlife!
Thanks for visiting our blog. I will be in touch soon with more news and to answer more questions and share more pictures.
– Jay Holcomb, Executive Director, IBRRC
International Bird Rescue Response Teams starting working in Gulf Coast within days of the Deepwater Horizon well blow out on April 20, 2010. With nearly 40 years of experience on more than 200 spills, IBRRC brings a wide variety of skills working with oiled wildlife.