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March 18, 2010

Fish Hooks Catching Pelicans

Influx of injured pelicans and other animals at wildlife center

The Humane Society of the United States

  • This grey fox came in with a severe hip injury, probably due to being hit by a car. Stefan Harsch/The HSUS

  • This X-ray of the fox's hip shows how out of kilter it was. The vets at the SPCA Wildlife Care Center formed a "pseudo joint," and within two days, the fox was up and about. Harsch/The HSUS

  • The number of pelicans coming to the Wildlife Care Center is five times what it was the same time last year. Harsch/The HSUS

  • This pelican was patched up and released back into his habitat. Harsch/The HSUS

by Julie Hauserman

A grey fox with a severe hip injury and an emaciated wood stork were among the recent patients successfully rehabilitated at the SPCA Wildlife Care Center in Broward County.

But the biggest influx at the center lately has been pelicans -- most of them due to unfortunate encounters with fishing hooks.

Recent Rehabs and Releases

"We're seeing about five times as many pelicans this year as we did last year," said Dr. Stefan Harsch, director of veterinary services at the Wildlife Care Center, which rescues more than 12,000 injured, abandoned, or abused native wild animals and exotic domestic animals each year in South Florida.

A wildlife rehabilitation center in nearby Palm Beach County closed down, so more of the birds are being brought to the Broward center for treatment.

When X-rays revealed that one of the pelicans had swallowed a fish hook, Dr. Harsch removed it, which had a squid still attached. With the hook out of its body, the pelican recovered and was released back into the wild.

Also released earlier this year: A grey fox who probably would have died from her injuries if someone hadn't spotted her lying underneath a car in Broward County in late October. One of the center's animal ambulances rescued the fox, and veterinarians discovered that her hip was out of joint, probably from being hit by a car.

Since the bones wouldn't pop back together, the best option was to perform surgery on her to remove the femur's top entirely. After the fox was sufficiently strong for the long anesthesia and procedure, Dr. Antonia Gardner and Dr. Renata Schneider performed the operation. The fox's body then formed a "pseudo joint" and she was able to walk just two days later.  

She recuperated in an outside enclosure until she was well enough to return to the wild.

Veterinarians at the Wildlife Center also helped an endangered wood stork, who arrived emaciated, dehydrated, cold to the touch, and unresponsive.

"This bird was on his death bed," Dr. Harsch said.

The bird turned out to be lucky: A steady infusion of fluids and tube-feeding revived him. After five days, he began eating on his own. He was treated for parasites and put on antibiotics.

On his release, the gangly bird with a 5-foot wingspan bolted to freedom, healthy and strong once again.  

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