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Injuries on brown pelicans in California raise fears of animal cruelty

The first bird appeared in September 2019.

A brown pelican arrived at International Bird Rescue in the San Pedro section of Los Angeles with serious injuries: straight gashes on both sides of its pouch that continued to the back of the head, leaving the bird’s neck exposed.

Since then, four more brown pelicans with similar injuries have been treated by the organization, said Rebecca Duerr, its director of research and veterinary science, and the injuries “have grown progressively more horrific.”

“With each bird, it seems more and more likely that it is not something natural,” Ms. Duerr said. “I can imagine a lot of bad things happening, but I can’t imagine this happening without someone doing it on purpose.

Because brown pelicans, which are abundant on California beaches, dive for food 50 feet above the water, the most common injuries are from boat hooks or propellers, which leave irregular, jagged cuts. . But “even if you dive on a straight machete,” Ms. Duerr said, “it wouldn’t do that kind of damage.

Since the appearance of the first injured pelican in 2019, others have appeared with similar injuries about quarterly, in April, June, September, and most recently December 15. Three of the birds were found in or near Marina del Rey, and the other two in the port of Ventura.

The process of recovering the birds takes two to three months, Ms Duerr said, adding that it seemed like just as one had recovered another had been brought back. Three of the birds were released into the wild, while another – the one captured on December 15 – was euthanized and one died of a fungal infection.

The similarity between the injuries, along with the seemingly precise cuts, has led International Bird Rescue to believe it could be a case of animal cruelty, Ms Duerr said.

“Some people see pelicans as pests,” Ms. Duerr said, rather than a “wonderful wild animal,” as they gravitate toward food and often land on boats trying to catch the same fish as fishermen. “Some people see wild animals eating the same fish that people steal from the person’s fish, while people have a choice of what to eat and pelicans don’t.

The use of DDT, the first modern synthetic insecticide, from the 1940s to the 1960s to control mosquitoes that carry malaria and typhus, wreaked havoc on populations of brown pelicans and other birds in the Channel Islands. Normans off California, even after the product was banned in the 1970s. The contamination thinned and broken the eggshells of birds when they tried to incubate them.

Brown pelicans were on the federal endangered species list until 2009, and even after that they experienced breeding failures caused by a decrease in the food supply, Ms. Duerr said.

The brown pelican remains a “fully protected bird,” said Captain Patrick Foy of the law enforcement division of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and harming them violates California and federal laws.

“You can’t harm pelicans,” he says. “You can’t catch them. You can’t chase them away. You can’t shoot them. You can’t do things like that.

The agency takes the allegations seriously, he added, but has yet to launch a formal investigation due to a lack of leads.

“We have to have other pieces to put together before we can call it an investigation,” said Captain Foy. “If we have any reports of this type of activity, we are absolutely going to take it seriously, but we just have nothing to start with.”

Both organizations urge the public to call the California Department of Fish and Wildlife information line at 888-334-2258 with information or if they witness someone attempting to capture or injure a pelican .

“You don’t hurt the pelicans in California without someone calling 911,” said Captain Foy. It would be very difficult to get away with it, ”he said.

The public have been participating in birding since 2009, when International Bird Rescue began marking the birds they treated with numbered blue bands and asking anyone who spotted one to report the sighting. The first bird treated in September 2019 was spotted by a bird watcher near San Luis Obispo, Calif., In July.

Pelicans are “smart, long-lived, prehistoric, cool birds” that are “super fun to watch,” Ms. Duerr said. “And if people see other people harming them, call your local animal control or game and fishing or whatever. It is a crime everywhere.

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