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November 26, 2002

Americans in Spain

IBRRC crew washing birds on Turkey day

W hile most Americans will be sitting down to a relaxing turkey dinner on Thanksgiving, the five person team from International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC) (www.ibrrc.org) based in California will be spending the day caring for and washing the hundreds of birds that have been rescued from the Prestige oil spill in Spain. With conditions expecting to worsen, it’s highly likely they may be doing the same Christmas Day and New Years.

As oil spills seem to be becoming ever more frequent, and the public demanding help for the animals, the need to train other countries in the proper procedures of caring for and rehabilitating oiled birds has become more important then ever before. The IBRRC team, considered experts in this field, has been spending less and less time at home. In fact, the team may have given the term “jet-setters” new meaning. In the past year the countries in which IBRRC staff has worked include China, Ireland, Australia, Africa, India, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, France, Germany and the Galapagos Islands. However, their lifestyle is far from glamorous.

Jay Holcomb, Director of IBRRC, and a veteran of over 100 spills, is considered the world’s expert on the rehabilitation of oiled birds. He and his team typically have only a matter of hours to pack a bag and head to a spill somewhere in the world, with no idea when they will return. When they land, whatever the time zone, they hit the ground running and 18-hour workdays are not uncommon.

Many countries have no facilities to handle the animals who are victims of an oil spill, so most often rehabilitation centers have to be constructed from nothing. Hot water, pools for the birds, electricity to keep the birds warm and dry them after washing, hoses and nozzles, medical supplies, food, fish, and most importantly, volunteers, all have to be arranged for, many times in very adverse conditions. Dawn dishwashing liquid (www.saveaduck.com), which is used to wash the oil from the bird’s feathers, is donated and sent by the caseload from Procter and Gamble. IBRRC’s Alaska representative, Barbara Callahan a native of Alaska and veteran of the Exxon Valdez spill and many others, heads up the task of procuring the supplies and getting them to the site.

The team, which has been in Spain for a week now (since 11/18), works with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) (www.ifaw.org) on international spills. Most often, if not for the partnership IBRRC shares with IFAW, and their funding and logistical support, there would be no money to care for the animals in enough time to save them. The window for oiled birds is very short; within a few days of being oiled, some bird species may be too debilitated to be saved.

Working with Xunta, the local wildlife authority for the Spanish province of Galicia, a building provided by the forestry department was turned into a rehabilitation center. Located in Pontevedra this facility includes a kitchen to prepare food for the birds, a stabilization room with holding pens where they are tubed with fluids and nourishment, facilities for blood tests, a wash and rinse area, and recovery pools. This center is now almost at capacity. Following discussions between the IFAW Emergency Relief Team and the Regional Environment Minister of Galicia, Carlos Del Alamo, who visited the rehab center on Sunday, plans are now under way to find a much larger facility.

The seas around the coastal islands close to Pontevedra are a national maritime park and one of the country’s most important areas for migratory birds and other marine wildlife. “Many seabirds live the majority of their lives out at sea, and only come ashore to nest. A sad reality is that we will never see those victims. This includes such species as the extremely rare and endangered Balearic shearwater. We are treating one now which arrived in critical condition, but very few will even make it to the shore,” said Jay Holcomb. Birds currently being cared for include gannets, scoters, razorbills, puffin, guillemots, gulls, and cormorants.

So far, the number of live birds collected and brought to the center is more than 350, although the total number of animals impacted in most large spills is never known. "We are expecting another 100 birds today, and if the immense oil slick currently out at sea does hit in a few days time, we may see much larger numbers of wildlife coming ashore. We need to be prepared for that possibility," said Holcomb. “"We have received a tremendous response from the local people and have many volunteers helping. We could not be doing this work without the cooperation of many organizations and people, including Xunta, IFAW and the hundreds of local people who have volunteered their efforts to help the birds and other wildlife affected by this disaster.

California’s Oiled Wildlife Care Network for which IBRRC manages two facilities (Cordelia and San Pedro) is considered the model response and rehabilitation organization in the world. The OWCN is funded by Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) and operated by the University of California Davis Wildlife Health Center.

Donations may be made on the IBRRC website (www.ibrrc.org) or my mail to: IBRRC, 4369 Cordelia Road, Cordelia, CA 94534.

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Media contact:

• Please DO NOT call our centers for Spain information •

Karen Benzel
Office: (831) 622-7588

Nick Jenkins (IFAW ER Team - Pontevedra, Spain) – 011 44 7799 883355.
or
Jennifer Ferguson-Mitchell (IFAW) – US Tel: 1 (508) 737-1584; mobile (508) -737-1584

 

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