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Workshop teaches attendees how to clean water fowl following an oil spill

By BY GHENI PLATENBURG - GPLATENBURG@VICAD.COM
Sept. 10, 2011 at 4:10 a.m.

Participants learn the proper way to wash a duck in the event of an oil spill during  the Wildlife Rehab & Education Center's Oiled Wildlife Response workshop on Friday at the Texas Zoo.

DID YOU KNOW?

It is against federal law for people not certified in oiled response training to make contact with an animal that has been affected by a spill.

If you do come in contact with an animal in that situation, you are urged to contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or Texas Parks & Wildlife Department.

More information on oiled wildlife and rehabbing can be found at wrande.org/ and wildliferehabber.org/st_disp_list.php

More than soap and water are required to save birds affected by an oil spill.

That was the lesson learned by about 40 attendees of the Oiled Wildlife Response workshop on Friday at The Texas Zoo.

Presenters from the nonprofit Wildlife Rehab & Education Center in Houston conducted the workshop, which was sponsored by the Fort Worth Zoo, to certify and train personnel with an interest in assisting the center's Oiled Wildlife Response Team in the event of an oil spill.

By attending the workshop, attendees received certification to assist personnel who will actually handle the animals during the cleanup process.

Certification and training is required for anyone who participates in any role during an oiled wildlife response.

"Every life is important. Even the companies that spill the product want to put the environment back to how it was before the spill," said Sharon Schmalz, executive director of the Texas Wildlife Center of Texas. "After people attend classes, they realize how involved it is and how much veterinary medicine goes into helping these animals get strong enough to be washed."

Attendees included representatives from the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, the Texas Master Naturalist Society, various companies in the oil industry, zoo personnel and individuals with an interest in assisting in the event on an oil spill.

The workshop at the Texas Zoo is just one of several held by the group annually throughout Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Victoria's proximity to the Gulf Coast and the limited number of rehabbers in the area made the Texas Zoo an ideal place to hold the workshop, said Schmalz.

"I thought it would be an awesome opportunity because we are short of rehabbers in this area," said Andrea Blomberg, executive director of the Texas Zoo, as she discussed her reasons for agreeing to host the workshop. "Anything to do with saving wildlife, we're all about."

Although the 2010 BP oil spill, which left about 4,500 animals dead, is one of the most infamous spills Schmalz said her team has been involved with, they have also worked with several smaller spills over the years.

"Some years go by without any activity, then other years there are four or five spills," said Schmalz, who has 30 years experience in oiled wildlife response. "A lot of preparation and training is needed in case something happens."

The organization is called in by governmental agencies or private companies to provide wildlife assistance when needed.

While any animal in a region victimized by an oil spill can be affected by the viscous liquid, water fowl, including ducks and pelicans, are especially vulnerable because of their intimacy with the water.

The workshop covered topics including the effects of oil on wildlife, federal wildlife laws, the process of the initial intake and exam of oiled wildlife and Occupational Safety and Health Administration training.

Participants also learned the finer points about cleaning the ducks, including the need to use Dawn dishwashing soap, reasons why not to get the soap and water in the animal's eyes and mouths, as well as the need for the water used to wash the ducks to be between a temperature of 104 and 106 degrees.

It takes about 20 to 30 minutes to wash oil from a bird's body and another 20 to 30 minutes to rinse off the soap.

In some cases, care for the birds continues even after the oil has been removed from their bodies.

"In most cases, we get the birds clean and they are still out there cleaning up the oil spill," said Schmalz. "So we have to babysit."

The future assistants also got actual hands-on experience washing unoiled white ducks and cleaning oiled feathers.

"I thought it was neat. I enjoyed it," said Wayne Daniel, a senior environmental health and safety specialist with Sandridge Energy in Oklahoma City. "It's an extensive process. It's not just about finding them and washing them. It's a lot of work."

Tara Tschritter, a volunteer with WR&E and the Houston Zoo also enjoyed the workshop.

"My passion is animals, and I want to help out," said Tschritter, 19. "I don't like just watching."

Schmalz said the cost to save an animal after a spill is minimal.

"Our cost for oil spill cleanup is less than 1 percent of the total cost," she said.

People interested in receiving certification to become a rehabber can do so through attending area workshops or by going to the WR&E center for training.

"If you came once a month for two or three hours, you would learn quite a bit," said Schmalz

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