June 14th, 2010
03:47 PM ET

Why we must try to save oiled birds

David Mizejewski
Special to CNN

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/OPINION/06/11/mizejewski.why.save.birds/t1larg.oil.spill.pelicans.afpgi.jpg caption="Rehabilitating oiled birds is a difficult and risky effort, says David Mizejewski." width=300 height=169]

Editor's note: David Mizejewski is a naturalist for the National Wildlife Federation and host and co-producer of "Backyard Habitat" on Animal Planet, a television series that shows people how to transform yards and gardens into thriving habitats for birds and other local wildlife.

The BP oil spill has brought into the public's eye the tragedy of oiled wildlife. The pictures last week of pelicans completely covered in oil were horrific and rightly produced an outcry of rage from the public.

Should these birds, and other oiled wildlife, be saved? Much like the struggle to contain the oil itself, there are no quick fixes or easy answers.

First, we need to emphasize that rescue and rehabilitation of oiled wildlife must be performed by trained wildlife professionals and volunteers. Without proper training, would-be rescuers can inadvertently harm or further stress oiled wildlife or be harmed themselves, either by struggling animals or the oil itself. Rescuers must go through a weeklong training on the handling of hazardous materials as well as proper wildlife rescue techniques.

Wildlife rehabilitation is difficult. It is more than simply retrieving, washing and releasing wildlife contaminated with oil. Rehabilitators not only clean wildlife but provide veterinary care and feeding. Some animals are desperately ill, while others may need only minimal care. Each animal is individually assessed and then treated appropriately. Experts may make the difficult decision that some creatures can't be saved.

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Filed under: 360° Radar • Gulf Oil Spill
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