Oil Spill Efforts

Many of us have watched, heart broken over the images from the Gulf oil spill.  The numbers of affected animals and the spoiled beaches and wetlands have been catastrophic.  Then tragedy struck here with the worst Midwest oil spill occurring in Kalamazoo.

Obviously being an animal lover, this was very sad to me as well and I wanted to figure out a way to volunteer. The opportunity came when I was contacted by the Michigan Veterinary Corp to respond.  I brought along with me several additional helpers from the zoo including our great Vet Tech Deb, Zookeeper Heather and some of our veterinary and zookeeper interns.  We went to assist the people already involved in the process, including our fabulous colleagues from Binder Park Zoo, who have been extensively involved with this from the start.

I have seen quite a few things working with wildlife and zoo animals including diseases ranging from minor to fatal. None of this prepared me for the images that I was about to see at the wildlife center in Kalamazoo. There were geese and swans so caked in oil crude that there was no way I could have told you what they were just by looking at them. And birds weren’t the only victims of this event! Map turtles, painted turtles, soft shells, even snapping turtles were all affected as well.

Our jobs of the day were to provide medical treatments to 15 of these turtles. Each one, even though it had already been cleaned, still had oil crude in crevices and clinging to their shells.  This is not to say that they weren’t cleaned properly, they were, but that it is that hard to get the oil crude off and there is only so long that you can wash a turtle, or any animal, before it gets too stressed out or you start to damage their skin from the cleaning process.  Even more shocking was that oil was also in their mouths, which makes sense, living in the water, but that was probably what depressed me the most.  We cleaned out their mouths, treated them medically and had them put on the list to be re-cleaned.

That was last week, now by this week, there are many turtles that are doing much better and have no evidence of the oil they once had. Several are even scheduled to be re-released to a new site that is clear of oil in the vicinity of their previous homes.  This is of course what we hope to accomplish with all of the turtles overall, but the process has only just begun and will likely be continuing for quite some time.

When I first began treating these animals I was told that this process is a “marathon” not a “sprint” - I now understand why.

Dr. Tara