ORANGE COUNTY, Calif. — More than 30 brown pelicans have been assaulted along California’s Orange County coastline during the past eight months, and wildlife advocates contend that the severity and frequency of the attacks are hindering efforts to rehabilitate the severely injured birds.
“Lately, we’ve seen quite an increase that is making us suspicious that something is happening that may be intentional, that someone is harming these birds intentionally,” Dr. Elizabeth Wood, a veterinarian with the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center in Huntington Beach, told KABC.
Debbie McGuire, the center’s executive director, told the TV station that 22 of the 32 pelicans received for treatment to date have suffered compound fractures of their humerus, an exceptionally strong bone that requires substantial force to break.
“It’s very disturbing. The last one, I think, brought tears to both my eyes and Dr. Wood,” McGuire said.
The 10 other birds, who suffered less severe injuries, have been rehabilitated and released, The Orange County Register reported.
Wood said during a Wednesday news conference that the 22 pelicans whose wings had clearly been snapped in half suffered damage so severe that the broken humeri had broken through the birds’ skin, meaning they could not be saved.
Although emergency surgeries were performed on several of the pelicans in attempts to save them, Wood said each procedure costs the facility about $5,000, followed by a months-long rehabilitation process that can result in expenses ranging anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000 per bird, the Register reported.
“It’s a really difficult battle, but we feel since there’s a declining number of these birds in the wild, it’s worth fighting for if it’s a fresh wound,” Wood told KABC. “If the wound is older, we really don’t have much of a chance, and unfortunately, we humanely euthanize those birds.”
Meanwhile, Wood told the Register that the sheer volume of injured pelicans indicates the mutilations are intentional because the center treats only a few compound fractures in a typical year.
Capt. Patrick Foy of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife told the newspaper that a similar chain of attacks first reported in April 2020 involving at least four brown pelicans in Ventura County is being investigated alongside the suspected Orange County attacks because those birds suffered severe cuts across their necks believed to have been inflicted by humans.
If apprehended, a suspect could face charges ranging from poaching to animal cruelty, Foy told the Register.
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