At first, the birds just poked their heads out of their
carriers, but seconds later they were off and flying high together
before disappearing. Pictured above with me, Jeffrey Arciniaco,
president and board chair of the South Florida Wildlife Center and
Debra Parsons-Drake, executive director of the center. Photo by
Manuel Mazzanti/AP Images for the HSUS
I was at the South Florida Wildlife
Center yesterday when workers there released six pelicans back
into the wild. The birds, who can be found wintering in South
Florida this time of year, had all been brought in last month with
injuries that need never have happened: they had each been hurt by
fish hooks discarded in the sea. Some of the pelicans had swallowed
the hooks, others had the hooks embedded in their wings, and some
even had them stuck deep in their mouths, making eating, drinking
and even flying nearly impossible.
The amazing staff at the wildlife center, which is an affiliate
of the Humane Society of the United States and one of the
nation’s highest volume wildlife trauma hospitals, spent weeks
treating and rehabilitating the injured animals. They performed
surgery, treated gaping wounds, manually removed snared hooks and
then cared for the birds at the wildlife center’s
state-of-the-art treatment facility as they recuperated, before
getting them ready to return to the wild, where they belong.
I watched as the team at the wildlife center mended and healed
animals, including a tortoise, a squirrel and a possum. Above, Dr.
Antonia Gardner, medical director at the center (left), with
Mariangelique Diaz, an animal care specialist. Photo by Manuel
Mazzanti/AP Images for the HSUS
When our staff brought the carriers out yesterday to release
them, the birds at first just poked their heads out to look around
before tentatively flapping out of their carriers. It was inspiring
to watch as their natural instincts kicked in, and seconds later
they were off and flying high together around the beach before
disappearing. Onlookers who had crowded the beach cheered and
clapped. But no sooner had we released the pelicans, than we got
word that there was another injured bird on the pier who needed our
help. This one had a fishing hook sticking out of her abdomen.
Each year, our South Florida Wildlife Center treats around 150
birds for fishhook injuries. The birds we find or who are brought
here are the lucky ones; many pelicans and sea birds injured by
trash discarded in the ocean will die a painful death that could
easily be avoided by the proper disposal of fishing equipment.
During my visit to the wildlife center, I also got to meet many
other patients under the excellent care of the team here. I watched
as they mended and healed animals, including a tortoise, squirrel
and a possum. I even got to bottle-feed a baby raccoon and a baby
squirrel who was yet to even open her eyes for the first time.
I got to bottle-feed a squirrel who was yet to open her eyes for
the first time. Photo by Manuel Mazzanti/AP Images for the HSUS
The need to help orphaned and injured animals like these in
South Florida is critical. Wildlife here is being displaced by a
growing population and encroaching development, causing large
numbers of animal injuries and deaths. The staff at the center
provides emergency rescue, veterinary treatment and rehabilitative
care to more than 350 wild species, and helps more than 12,000
injured, orphaned and imperiled animals each year. They have been
doing this for a long time now: the center was founded in 1969 and
will soon celebrate its 50th anniversary.
But this is not all they do. With so many experts on the staff,
the wildlife center also functions as a teaching facility in
wildlife veterinary medicine and rehabilitation. And because 90
percent of the animals seen here, like the pelicans, get here
because of negative interactions with people, staff at the center
work to educate the community about wildlife and peacefully
coexisting with wild neighbors.
After releasing the pelicans, we returned to the wildlife center
yesterday not with six empty carriers, as we had hoped, but five.
It was a reminder that these problems are not likely to end any
time soon. But as the experts at the South Florida Wildlife Center
took her into their capable hands, it was heartening to know that
we would be making all the difference in the world for this bird
with the fish hook stuck in her belly, who would otherwise have had
Source: FS – Pets – A Humane Nation
At South Florida Wildlife Center, staff rehabilitate pelicans, other wildlife hurt and orphaned by human actions