10 Pelicans Rescued from Chennai Oil Spill Returned to Wild on World Wildlife Day

On World Wildlife Day, a significant event unfolded as 10 spot-billed pelicans, previously rescued from the Ennore oil spill disaster in Chennai, were successfully reintroduced into their natural habitat after undergoing over two months of intensive care and rehabilitation. This noteworthy release operation, executed on March 1st, was orchestrated by the Tamil Nadu Forest Department in collaboration with esteemed entities including the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) and Besant Memorial Animal Dispensary (BMAD), underscoring a concerted effort to restore ecological balance in the wake of the environmental catastrophe.

The oil spill, originating from the Chennai Petroleum Corporation Limited (CPCL) in December 2023, posed grave ecological threats as it rapidly disseminated across the Kosasthalaiyar River, Ennore Creek, and adjoining maritime areas, exacerbating risks to both wildlife and local fishermen, particularly compounded by the flooding induced by Cyclone Michaung. Prompt response measures spearheaded by the Tamil Nadu government, including the deployment of nearly 900 personnel alongside trained sea cleaning agencies and indigenous fishermen, resulted in the removal of 105.82 kiloliters of oily water and 393.5 tons of oily sludge from the Ennore Creek, mitigating further environmental degradation.

Since January, the Emergency Relief Network (ERN), a collaborative initiative between the Wildlife Trust of India and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), has been pivotal in extending technical support to the Tamil Nadu Forest Department and BMAD in orchestrating the rehabilitation and veterinary care protocols for the 10 rescued spot-billed pelicans. Notably, the spot-billed pelican, classified as “Near Threatened” on the IUCN Red List and being the sole pelican species known to breed in India, faced acute peril due to the spillage aftermath, underscoring the urgency of the rescue and rehabilitation endeavors.

Following their rescue, the pelicans underwent meticulous treatment encompassing oral hydration, orifice cleansing, and subsequent transfer to temporary enclosures where they received specialized care, including cleaning with vegetable oil and liquid detergents tailored for oil removal. Provision of nutritional support through tube feeding, coupled with the deployment of amenities such as inflatable water tubs, perching branches, UV lamps, and blowers, facilitated their gradual recuperation. The culmination of these efforts culminated in the deemed fitness for release of the pelicans after months of dedicated care and rehabilitation.

Dr. NVK Ashraf, Chief Veterinarian at the Wildlife Trust of India, underscored the significance of the pelicans’ return to Ennore, affirming the fitting of identification rings for monitoring purposes to ensure their continued well-being in their natural environment. The presence and acknowledgment of Supriya Sahu, Additional Chief Secretary for Environment, Climate Change, and Forest, Government of Tamil Nadu, during the release ceremony served as a testament to the collaborative endeavor and marked appreciation for the collective efforts of the Forest Department, WTI-IFAW, and BMAD in safeguarding and reinstating the pelicans’ ecological equilibrium.

Shruti Suman

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