IFAW Deploys for Mexican Floods and Russian Oil Spill
As IFAW's international Animal Rescue Team gathers for its annual conference - we watch team members jump planes and witness our numbers dwindle as global emergencies unfold The entire IFAW Emergency Relief Team has gathered for the week in Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts for our annual ER program meeting with colleagues from all over the world. It was only appropriate that at this time, three emergencies were unfolding around the world that we were also involved in. Timing is everything…
The night before the beginning of our meetings, I heard from IFAW's Barbara Callahan who is helping to direct the rescue efforts of the oil spill in San Francisco. "We're already up to 500 oiled birds we're working on" she said, "with many more still pouring in." We lamented the fact that this had ever happened, and as I live in San Francisco myself, I was sharing with her the terrible feeling in your gut when you look out over the water and smell the stench of oil.
On the first day of our meeting, some members of our ER team had just arrived from Tabasco, Mexico to report on their experience dealing with the catastrophic flooding that occurred there. The reports we heard back from the team were heart breaking, and incredibly reminiscent of IFAW's response to Katrina. I was very proud to hear that IFAW was the first animal welfare group on the ground, and had immediately put together a coalition of groups. One of our 16 IFAW global offices is located in Mexico, which gave us an immediate jump start in dealing with the tragedy with key contacts and connections. IFAW immediately committed $50,000 to begin dealing with the aftermath, and is now launching a larger team of seven to begin the harrowing process of distributing food to the stricken and displaced animals. As we watched the slides of the flooding during the assessment, you were able to grasp the magnitude of this particular flood when our ER Team Manager said, "you see all those dots below in the brackish water that look like specs from the helicopter, they are all animal carcasses floating by. And those larger objects on top of all the roof tops? Those are trapped animals surrounded by floating bodies of livestock."
Day two of the meeting, we learned that a second IFAW team was deploying for yet another emergency - a massive oil spill in Russia. In our meeting was IFAW's Barbara Callahan, one of the world's leaders in oil spill responses who is now deploying with our ER vet and oil spill responder, Valeria Ruoppolo. IFAW's Russian office received a request to come and assess the situation immediately. The ship the Volganeft, Spilled 550,000 gallons of heavy fuel oil into straits connected to the Black Sea in what Russian officials are calling an environmental catastrophe. The oil from a tanker cut in two during a storm at the weekend has killed an estimated 30,000 birds and there are warnings the effects of oil sinking to the sea bed could linger for years." This oil is apparently worse because the sulphur is more toxic and deadly. (To find out more about IFAW's global oil spill responses click here.)
So, this is our third day of our global International Animal Rescue meetings at IFAW, and our numbers are quickly dwindling. It is one of the moments though I am most proud to be associated with this organization - to watch these incredible teams drop everything around the holidays and head off around the globe with their state of the art equipment, training and experience to save animals in crisis. We will keep you updated as these rescues unfold…
Photo credit: Sergei Grits / AP