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White Pelicans Affected by Gulf Oil Spill Find New Home at Brookfield Zoo
Chicago Zoological Society Continues Rescue and Research Efforts in Response to the Disaster

Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Special to suffredin.org

Brookfield, IL— Five American white pelicans, rescued from the Gulf of Mexico as a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, have a new home at Brookfield Zoo. This past weekend, Animal Programs staff from the Chicago Zoological Society, which manages the zoo, drove to pick up the birds at Jackson Zoo in Mississippi, where they had been temporarily housed. Following the approximately 12-hour drive back to Brookfield, the birds received physicals and are currently in the zoo’s Animal Hospital, where they will remain for at least a 30-day quarantine period. Afterwards, they will be placed on permanent exhibit at the Formal Pool located just north of Perching Bird House.

 

Three of the pelicans are adult age and the other two are estimated to be less than 2 years old as they still have sub-adult plumage. All five birds, rescued from the Mississippi Canyon area off the coast of Louisiana, had sustained wing injuries prior to the oil spill that prevented them from migrating this past spring to their northern breeding range. When the oil spill occurred the birds, which were slight to moderately oiled, joined other wildlife species that needed human intervention. They were treated for their injuries by volunteers working with the International Bird Rescue Research Center and Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research. Once they were treated, cleaned, and stabilized, the pelicans were transported to Jackson Zoo until permanent homes could be found for them.

 

“We are sorry for the circumstance that is making it possible for us to have these animals as part of the zoo’s animal collection, but we feel extremely fortunate to be able to collaborate with these organizations and provide the birds a good permanent home where they will receive the best possible care,” said Tim Snyder, curator of birds for the Chicago Zoological Society. “We hope these pelicans will serve as ambassadors for their wild counterparts to help educate our guests about the effects the oil spill has had on the wildlife in the Gulf,” added Snyder.    

 

Brookfield Zoo is one of four zoos receiving rehabilitated white pelicans from Jackson Zoo. “At this time, we do not yet know the potential long-term health risks the pelicans may have sustained due to exposure to the oil,” said Snyder. “However, we plan to monitor them closely and collect data on their health in an attempt to look at the immediate and long-range impact the oil may have on them.” This research data could prove to be critical as more birds are likely to be affected by the oil as they begin to migrate back south in the fall.

 

The American white pelican is one of the largest bird species found in North America weighing up to 20 pounds and measuring 4 to 6 feet in length with a wingspan of approximately 9 feet. Their plumage is white with the exception of black-edged wings that are visible in flight. The long orange bill is between 10 to 14.5 inches long and the orange legs are short with big webbed feet.

 

Although not endangered, the pelican population is increasingly threatened due to habitat loss caused by flooding and droughts as well as contamination. In addition they face human-related threats, such as discarded fishing line and plastics, boating disturbances, or disturbance of nest sites

 

In addition to helping with efforts to rescue the pelicans, the Chicago Zoological Society’s Sarasota Dolphin Research Program is collaborating with federal agencies that are responding to and assessing the impact of the oil spill on dolphins and other wildlife. As international leaders in dolphin research and conservation, Randall Wells, Ph.D., senior conservation scientist for the Society, and his staff and collaborators are collecting benchmark information on many aspects of dolphin biology, including health, behavior, genetics, environmental change, and adverse interactions with humans. Now in its 40th year, the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program is the world’s longest-running study of a wild dolphin population. The data collected through the program are now even more critical, providing benchmarks to look at the immediate and long-term impacts of the spill on dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico. The program has a long-standing international reputation for providing high-quality information of importance to dolphin conservation.

 

Brookfield Zoo is owned by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County and managed by the Chicago Zoological Society.  The Chicago Zoological Society’s mission is to inspire conservation leadership by connecting people with wildlife and nature. Open every day of the year, Brookfield Zoo is located off First Avenue between the Stevenson (I-55) and Eisenhower (I-290) expressways and is also accessible via the Tri-State Tollway (I-294), Metra commuter line, CTA, and PACE bus service.



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