04 October 2010

Rehabilitated Pelicans Find New Homes in Zoos

American White Pelicans affected by the recent Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and could not be released back into the wild, have found new homes in several zoos.

The birds had an injury to their wings, "caused while they were compromised in the oil spill or something that they had but was worsened by the oil," according to Rosemary Jalink, of the Jackson Zoological Park, at Jackson Mississippi. "Those which came in alive and could be cleaned and re-released were, those which had injuries which would not allow them to survive in the wild have been placed in various Association of Zoos and Aquariums zoos around the country who have volunteered to take them."

American White Pelican. Image courtesy of the Henry Doorly Zoo.

Pelicans were taken by the St. Louis Zoo, the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, the Phoenix Zoo and the Henry Doorly Zoo, in Omaha.

The six pelicans that came to the Omaha Zoo, were placed in a new exhibit called the Eagle Aviary, at the Wildlife Safari Park.

The birds from the Jackson Zoo were added to the five already present, said Stephanie Huettner, Assistant General Curator and Curator of Birds at the Henry Doorly Zoo. "We also recently added four additional Pelicans from the Racine Zoo," in Wisconsin.

When the Gulf of Mexico pelicans arrived in Omaha - zoo staff drove to the Jackson Zoo to pick up the birds - they were kept in quarantine for 30 days, prior to their official release in the exhibit on September 3rd.

"The additional pelicans will fulfill a current population need at Wildlife Safari Park," Huettner said. "Our original flock of five birds was nice to look at, but not likely to reproduce, and not a true picture of how American White Pelicans live in the wild" where they typically occur in large flocks, and nest in colonies.

"We will maintain our flock at about 20 birds," Huettner said. "We have a confirmed 11 males, and four that we still need to determine the gender of. We do plan on adding nesting structures to the exhibit and holding areas to encourage breeding."

The pelicans at the Henry Doorly Zoo facilities apparently comprise the largest captive flock in the country.

"An obvious value" of adding to the number of pelicans "is the increased genetic diversity to our immediate population of American White Pelicans, as well as bolstering the North American captive population's diversity" Huettner said. "We had a desire to acquire more Pelicans to add to our animal collection, and these were available. I was also excited about these birds being great ambassadors to share the story of the oil spill, and its effects on wildlife."

The birds will be moved from the aviary to their winter quarters - a large barn at the Safari Park - in early November. "There are holding pens within the building, all of which have large in-ground pools," Huettner said. Visitors to the safari park will be able to watch the daily feeding next April, when the birds are placed outdoors in the Eagle Aviary. About 10-12 medium-sized trout are fed to the pelicans each day.

The Eagle Aviary was just recently constructed.

"The total cost of the project was just over $110,000," Huettner said. "Approximately half of that cost was funded by a Nebraska Environmental Trust Fund grant, another portion came from Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo, and the remaining from a grant from Cass County."

Three other species of birds will share the aviary with the pelicans.

Sixteen Cattle Egrets were taken from the 200 egrets at various exhibits at the riverfront zoo, Huettner said. "Over 100 are on display in the aviary, some are in the Lied Jungle, and at Expedition Madagascar."

There are also six Bald Eagles, and a Golden Eagle, Huettner said. All of these birds are "owned by the government," but came from the Baltimore zoo, the Dakota Zoo, and one from a local raptor rehabilitation organization.

Enthusiastic Zoos

"The Chicago Zoological Society was happy to be able to assist with this collaborative rescue effort by providing these pelicans with a permanent home where they will receive the best possible care," said Tim Snyder, curator of birds and reptiles for the Chicago Zoological Society. "It has been several decades since Brookfield Zoo has had this species in its animal collection. Being one of the largest birds in North America, they are quite impressive and will hopefully be a favorite among zoo guests."

Five pelicans were released here on August 24, 2010, according to a news report.

Five were also recently released at the Phoenix Zoo, and placed in a new exhibit called the Wetlands.