Animal Rescuers Wash Pelicans Clean of Mexican Oil

VERACRUZ, Mexico, January 14, 2005 (ENS) - Animal experts are dealing with the remains of an oil spill along the Gulf of Mexico coast near Veracruz, Mexico that has oiled hundreds of birds and animals. The spill occurred on December 22 after an explosion at a pumping station operated by Mexico's state oil company Pemex spewed between five and 10 thousand barrels of oil into the Coatzacoalcos River, damaging marine habitat and wildlife.

Pemex head, Luis Ramírez Corzo, will meet Veracruz state Governor Fidel Herrera and other state officials on January 20 to evaluate damages and discuss compensation for the spill, the company said in a statement.

Pemex has recovered 5,796 barrels of a mixture of crude and water, newspaper "Diario de Xalapa" reported as saying. The company has said 5,000 barrels of crude were spilled, while other reports put the number as high as 10,000 barrels.

Ramírez admitted that 29 worn duct lines need maintenance, the same lack of maintenance that led to spills elsewhere in the country.

PEMEX has agreed to support the rescue of the oiled wildlife. So far 149 birds and animals have been captured for rehabilitation by an expert emergency response team from two animal welfare organizations - the International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC) and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).


Oiled pelicans wait for attention from the emergency rescue team. (Photo courtesy IBRRC)
As the bird aviaries are being constructed on the water's edge near the Coatzacoalcos River, dozens of pelicans and other seabirds fly overhead or sit around on the tops of the nearby buildings watching the activities going on below. Most of them appear to be oiled.

“We have about 100 birds in-house and another 400 on-house!” said Jay Holcomb IBRRC co-director of the response team, trying to add some humor to a very trying experience.

"Hundreds of animals, mostly pelicans, are stained with oil and we are attempting to catch and wash them as quickly as possible," said Paul Kelway, manager of IFAW's Emergency Relief team.

Kelway says the group has been capturing large numbers of pelicans on a daily basis by putting out bait to attract them to the rescue facility. Most are in good condition and all are eating well so the turnaround is likely to be quite quick, he said.


An oiled pelican will be cleaned from the remains of the Pemex spill. (Photo courtesy IBRRC)
The rehabilitation center near the spill site is well equipped with washing pools, pens, cages and oily water waste tanks.

To date, the center has admitted pelicans, seagulls, herons, snakes, box turtles, hawks, kingfishers, iguanas and water turtles.

The number of animals affected by the spill is growing on a daily basis and is expected to reach at least 400, the team says.

To date, eight animals have been released from the center and the team expects more to be released in the coming days.

The animal rescue team is working in cooperation with local Mexican government organizations such as CONABIO (National Commission for Biodiversity) and PROFEPA (Federal Department of Environmental Protection) to recruit and train volunteers to handle cleanup and wildlife rescue and rehabilitation work.

The team is working with Pemex to set up waste tanks to properly dispose of the oily waste water generated by the animal washing. A team of workers hired by Pemex is constructing more aviaries so the team will be able to cope as the numbers of oiled birds increase as they are expected to do in coming days.