Zoo hosts refugee pelicans from oil-stricken Gulf - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Zoo hosts refugee pelicans from oil-stricken Gulf

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Posted: Friday, August 6, 2010 9:06 am | Updated: 10:01 am, Thu Sep 2, 2010.

Six American White pelicans rescued from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill have found a new home at The Phoenix Zoo.

The birds arrived Wednesday from the Jackson Zoo in Jackson, Miss., where they had been temporarily housed after wildlife rescuers found the birds in the Mississippi Canyon area of the Gulf of Mexico, says Dan Subaitis, the zoo’s director of animal management.

“These particular birds were captured because they could not fly, because of wing injuries sustained earlier in their lives. The rehabbers worried that the birds wouldn’t be able to leave the area and escape the oil,” he says. “A couple of them had some oil on them, but they weren’t yet like the birds you see on TV, all covered in black.”

The pelicans arrived in Phoenix via a FedEx plane. They will be quarantined at the zoo for 30 days while veterinarians monitor their health and make sure they don’t carry any diseases, germs or parasites harmful to the zoo’s other animals. After that, they’ll be released into the park’s new Wetlands habitat.

“It’s not the Gulf of Mexico, but White pelicans migrate north and south, and in the warmer months of the year they live in areas similar to the exhibit they’re going to. It’s a wetland area with a quarter-acre pond that will be rather deep. They’ll share that with sandhill cranes, Mexican red brocket deer, blackneck swans and Chilean flamingos. There will be a lot going on to keep them stimulated and occupied,” says Subaitis.

American White pelicans are one of North America’s largest birds, according to the National Audubon Society. They have a 9-foot wingspan and a large bill and pouch. Their population declined throughout the first half of the 20th century, and the species was considered threatened until the early 1960s.

In the wild, the birds may be seen foraging together in shallow waters or loafing nearby. They are typically tolerant of human observation at a respectful distance.

Subaitis says visitors will likely eventually be able to see the birds up close, when zookeepers feed them at a viewing area and speak about their species and rescue story.

He says the birds were slightly stressed after the plane ride from Mississippi but seem to be making a quick recovery.

“Birds tend to adjust fairly well if they’re not a nervous-type bird, and pelicans are pretty calm. As of this morning, they were eating and hanging out and doing just fine.”

Numerous zoos across the nation are accepting birds displaced by the oil spill. Their efforts, says Subaitis, are allowing creatures with more critical needs to be nursed back to health closer to where they were rescued.

The Phoenix Zoo may accept more Gulf-area birds in the coming weeks and months, as space and conditions allow.

“Giving these birds a home is a way for all of us here in the Valley to connect to the crisis down there and help out. It may be a small way of doing that, but it’s a big way for these six birds. Everybody should feel a little pride behind that. We’re making some kind of an effort, as a Valley, to help out,” says Subaitis.

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