Spotlight Peru: Piecing together the puzzle of the mysterious animal deaths
Like most enthusiastic birdwatchers, I can’t resist penguins, pelicans, boobies and so many different species of cormorants that occur in Peru. This is why I worried when I heard of the mass mortality event that impacted thousands of seabirds, mostly pelicans since early 2012. The event has touched many people in Peru and it made international news but so far it is unclear why it happened and official reports say it occurred probably due to natural causes.
After the mortality event, staff from the Huachipa Zoological Park in the Nation’s capital of Lima, decided it was necessary to be ready to rescue animals the next time an emergency occurs.
For this reason, a local coalition was formed named SOS Salva un Ave (SOS Save a Bird) and coordinated by Biologist Lizette Bermudez. She sent out a request for help, which landed on my inbox given the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s (IFAW) experience in helping animals during emergencies. SOS Salva un Ave is looking to set up a rehabilitation and education center for marine wildlife and we can definitely help with that.
A few days ago, I travelled to Lima with my colleague, Biologist Sergio Rodriguez Heredia, a long-time member of IFAW’s Animal Rescue Team from Fundación Mundo Marino, in Argentina. Our first day in Peru was full of meetings with the Zoo’s staff and finding out more about their plans for the rehabilitation center and the talks they wanted us to give.
There were a series of meetings lined up for the following days to attend together with SOS Salva un Ave and those included the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of the Environment and two different veterinary schools. The vet schools are very keen to donate space and include marine wildlife as part of their programs. The Ministry of the Environment is liaising with local stakeholders to establish a stranding network. IFAW has a great deal of experience with stranding networks in the US and in Brazil and we were asked to advise as the systems are developed.
Dr Catalina Hermoza, veterinarian at the Zoo and President of the Peruvian Wildlife Veterinarians Association (APEVEFAS) took us out to the field, to Paracas National Reserve. We have seen many dead birds along the beaches, but many thousands of live ones too! Spectacular wildlife at impressive numbers. Peru is the epicenter of El Niño events and wildlife figures fluctuate through the different seasons.
Our talks at Universidad Científica del Sur and at the Museum of Natural History were very successful and well attended by more than 100 people. Those included veterinarians, biologists, students and members of the general public in order to start a volunteer network.
One of the people attending the talks was a local veterinarian who recovers Hornby’s storm petrels (Oceanodroma hornbyi) that crash-land in different places in Lima. The reason why these birds fall is not known but it is most likely because they get confused with the city lights, as do other species of petrels in other parts of the world. Dr Yovana Murillo takes care of the birds they can find in her clinic, bands and releases them a few days later. We will help her to further develop their sampling and treatment protocols.
Now, as I make my way back home, I carry with me a warm feeling that this trip was the kick-start to great regional collaborations and that IFAW will be able to help many animals in need in the years to come.