HSUS animal centers, experts prepared to help animals of oil spill disaster

The Humane Society of the United States

Hundreds of species of wildlife are at risk from the massive oil spill in the Gulf Coast.

Dr. Roberto Aguilar, staff veterinarian at our Cape Wildlife Center in Barnstable, Mass., spoke with us briefly about the massive and ongoing oil spill threatening havoc on the delicate ecosystem of the Gulf Coast region.

In addition to our emergency responders and triage equipment ready for immediate deployment, we asked Dr. Aguilar what kind of role The HSUS’s animal care centers would play in rescue and rehab efforts.

Dr. Aguilar is an associate researcher at the New Zealand Wildlife Health Centre, one of the largest oil spill networks in the world.

Q: Can you give us an overview of the situation for wildlife?

A: The Gulf region is diverse and full of unique wildlife who almost certainly will be compromised—from sea turtles and sperm whales to countless species of shorebirds and migratory avian species. Though marine mammals are the purview of specialized stranding networks, an immense variety of mammals, birds and reptiles will be affected.

The oil spill affecting the area is thick, tarry toxic crude capable of inflicting not only short-term damage to adult animals but also severe long-term effects on critical breeding populations. Dips in wildlife populations can be expected (as have been seen after all major oil spills). The fact that most of southern Louisiana and parts of other coastlines are critical wetlands makes the dimension of the tragedy even greater. 

The area represents significant spawning grounds for fish, nesting areas for birds, as well as coastal wildlife; and, tragically, the breeding season is at its height. The diversity of species and the unique requirements of each in dealing with the chemicals poisoning their systems require specialized training—without it, the responders pose a threat to the animals’ survival chances, and both the animals and the hazardous materials pose risks to the humans. 

Q: How is The HSUS able to help? 

A: We have staff and volunteers trained and qualified to respond in the event our assistance is requested. Additionally, we have staff located in all of the Gulf Coast states. They’ve reached out to emergency management, wildlife centers, and shelters to offer support and resources when and if needed. Our trained responders and a fleet of fully equipped transport vehicles are prepared to mobilize.

As one of the largest and most diverse providers of direct animal care in the country, our wildlife rehab experts at The HSUS animal centers stand ready to support local, regional and national responses to the spill threatening the region and its wildlife. Our shared experience will meet the needs should an opportunity to treat any of the affected Gulf Coast animals come up, including issues that may not be directly related to the spill. We also are capable of housing wildlife for a stabilization period if those resources are needed.

Our highly trained and experienced staff at the Wildlife Care Center in South Florida, The Fund for Animals Wildlife Center in California, and Cape Wildlife Center in Massachusetts has dealt extensively with wildlife in trouble due to human activity. This has included everything from a tiny one-ounce wren caught in a glue trap (a situation which presents similar problems to treating oiled animals) to eiders covered in diesel fuel, to coyotes and bobcats hit by cars.

Our Florida center is one of the largest wildlife rehabilitation facilities in the country, seeing more than 12,000 animals a year. There, we treat many of the same species at risk from the oil spill—brown pelicans, egrets, royal terns and others. The center is gearing up for an immediate response to treating animals on site if necessary.

Flexibility, experience, preparedness, training, and patience all come in to play in participating in a well planned, sustained, long term effective cleaning and restoration effort. Our goal will be, as always, to effectively help, treat and recover as many wild animals as possible.

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