Pelicans are tortured many times within the Florida Keys
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On March 8, witnesses called the Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center about two pelicans covered in blood on the Tea Table Relief Bridge in Islamorada. A bird flew away, but the one that was left looked like it had been tortured. An intern drove the pelican to the bird center and called wildlife rehabilitator Gregory Russ to ask for help.
“I was preparing for the worst, but when the pelican came in, I was definitely not prepared for it,” Russ told the New Times. “I was expecting a bad hit from a car, broken bones. I wasn’t expecting cruelty. That definitely surprised me.”
It took a few minutes for the rehab center staff to understand what they were seeing. It looked like the bird had a plastic bag on its face. It turned out that someone had ripped open the bird’s pouch, the part of the body that dangles under its beak and that pelicans use to gather food. Then they turned the pouch over and wrapped it tightly over the pelican’s head.
“That was shocking,” says Russ.
Russ took some effort to peel the pouch from the bird’s head and locate the other wounds. He saw that the animal had been stabbed several times. Russ says the bird lost a lot of blood and there was no way he could have reattached the pelican’s pouch so it could heal. He didn’t think the bird would survive the night and made the decision to put it to sleep.
“”[The pelican] It looked like he was in a lot of pain to heal, “says Russ.” There would have been a lot of trouble. It would probably have been painful to breathe. In a bad way, it was an easy decision. Sometimes we can’t do anything and it absolutely sucks. ”
Last month’s incident wasn’t the first time someone mutilated a pelican in the Florida Keys. In 2013, several slotted pouch pelicans were found on Cudjoe Key and other islands in the Lower Keys. More than a dozen brown pelicans were found in Summerland and Cudjoe Keys with their pouches slit in late 2014 and early 2015. And in January 2015, a security guard received a call about a mutilated pelican at the Venture Out Resort in Cudjoe Key.
The birds have also been found brutal in other parts of the state. Earlier this year, a bird rescue team treated 16 injured pelicans found at Sunshine Skyway Pier in Manatee County. And in 2015, a rescue team picked up 18 pelicans that were apparently beaten.
Brown pelicans are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. It is against the law to harm the birds and anyone found guilty will face fines and prison terms.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is investigating the latest Islamorada case, and law enforcement agencies in the Keys share pictures of two men suspected of mutilating the animal.
An FWC spokesman told the New Times the agency could not discuss the case or provide additional information as it was being investigated. However, Florida Keys Weekly reports that FWC investigators interviewed the two suspects. No charges have been filed and the names of the suspects have not been released.
After the bird was euthanized, Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center assistant director Bayleigh MacHaffie performed an autopsy – essentially an animal autopsy – and documented the injuries and appearance of the bird in detail.
“I can’t confirm a timeframe, but it seemed like they’d been injured lately,” MacHaffie told the New Times. “The blood was fresh. He had many different wounds on his pouch, neck, beak and head. Some of the wounds were more severe. A few slices went through his windpipe, his glottis. Some stab wounds went through the top of his skull. There was one Puncture through the roof of the mouth and into the nasal cavity. “
The center’s executive director Jordan Budnik says whoever attacked the pelican must have used significant force to wrestle the bird’s skin. This type of injury in itself can prove fatal, she says.
“A sufficiently large cut in a pelican pouch leads to the animal starving,” says Budnik. “This is not a problem with smaller cuts. However, extensive damage to a bag prevents the animal from feeding itself.”
In 1970, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) declared the brown pelican endangered due to the threat of pesticide contamination. In 1972 the federal government banned the general use of the pesticide DDT to aid the recovery of the pelican population. By 1985 the FWS removed the brown pelican from the list of endangered animals.
The brown pelican was on Florida’s list of endangered and threatened species due to habitat loss and injuries from fishing line and hooks. It was removed from the endangered species list in 2017 but is now listed as an endangered species.
It is not clear why pelicans are specifically the target of attack. Some fishermen suggest that the birds can be a nuisance. They sometimes grab what fishermen catch or steal their bait. Budnik, the director of the Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center, says people sometimes injure pelicans for a sadistic thrill.
“Maybe a year ago a gentleman in Key West jumped on a pelican,” he says. “Sometimes people just don’t have empathy for these animals and do things because they don’t feel like they are harming them or because they don’t care that they are causing harm to that animal.”
MacHaffie, the centre’s assistant director, says people sometimes hurt animals out of a sense of entitlement or because they feel the animal is an inconvenience – something she says is never justified.
“This could be our room, but it was their room first and they are just trying to survive,” she says. “Even if they attack you, they are just trying to survive. They cannot communicate with us to tell us that they are afraid or that we are in their space. We have to respect these limits as human beings and try to coexist with these animals. “
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Alexi C. Cardona is an employee at Miami New Times. A native of Hialeah, she is happy to be home writing about Miami’s weirdness after working for the Naples Daily News for four years.