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#382877 06/08/10 04:27 PM
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Less Than 1% of Oil-Soaked Birds Survive

birds-cleaned-die-gulf-spill photo
Photo via Boston

"Kill, don't clean" oiled birds
No, that's not the opinion of a heartless bird-hater, or BP CEO Tony Hayward letting fly another tactless gaffe. It's the actual recommendation of one oil spill expert and animal biologist who says that once birds are thoroughly oiled, the best course of action is to put them out of their misery. Even if all the crude is scrubbed from their feathers, she says, oiled birds are all but certain to die a long, painful death.

This may shock many, and the advice certainly appears contrary to that of the myriad conservationists who have set up centers around the Gulf to care for oiled birds.

But Der Spiegel reports on why this biologist is dead serious:

Despite the short-term success in cleaning the birds and releasing them back into the wild, few, if any, have a chance of surviving, says Silvia Gaus, a biologist at the Wattenmeer National Park along the North Sea in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein.

"According to serious studies, the middle-term survival rate of oil-soaked birds is under 1 percent," Gaus says. "We, therefore, oppose cleaning birds."

Instead, she says, it would be less painful for the birds to kill them quickly, or to let them die in peace.

Cleaning Birds Worse than Letting Them Die?
Capturing and scrubbing the birds is a traumatic experience, and is incredibly stressful for the birds. Gaus also says that forcing birds to ingest coal solutions like Pepto Bismol as rescue workers are doing in the Gulf is ineffective, and that the birds will die from liver and kidney damage anyways. Birds ingest the toxic oil while attempting to clean their feathers.

According to a British Study cited in the report, the average bird released after cleaning in other spills only survived for seven days. Even the World Wildlife Fund agrees that cleaning is largely futile: "Birds, those that have been covered in oil and can still be caught, can no longer be helped. ... Therefore, the World Wildlife Fund is very reluctant to recommend cleaning."

Which is why Gaus advocates a quick clean death for the birds, to end their suffering. It's an unfortunate recommendation, and one that goes against our better instincts, but what if Gaus and those who side with her are right? If scrubbing oiled birds only increases their trauma, and they still die, painfully, shortly after, are such bird cleaning operations providing any service other than to put on a public show of BP's 'response' effort? It's depressing and grim to consider that perhaps conservationists are doing more harm than good by 'saving' birds from the BP Gulf spill.

More on Birds in Danger from BP Gulf Spill
Up Close and Personal With the Birds Threatened by the Gulf Oil Spill
How to Clean an Oil -Covered Bird (Video)
First Birds Rescued from Gulf Oil Spill Released in Florida ...

http://www.treehugger.com/files/2010/06/less-1-percent-oil-soaked-birds-survive.php


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I ran an SPCA that had an oiled birds unit. I claim no expertise as I was completely ignorant of what was involved until we had to deal with a small incident. It is definitely a very stressful process for the birds and it is true that research indicates few of those who survive to be released continue to survive in the wild. Washing is not the only part of the process. The birds must be handled daily, many for forced feeding - as many diving sea birds cannot be stimulated to eat in shallow water - and constant weighing to make sure they achieve what is considered the ideal weight for release. This is a very emotive issue and always is when euthanasia is discussed in the context of animal welfare. I'm just so saddened that after the awful devastation that has been caused by previous oil spills, no lessons seem to have been learned.


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At Belize Bird Rescue we would humanely euthanise badly oiled birds unless they were an endangered species. Then we would try to move heaven and earth to save it as every single one counts.


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