Lima (AFP) – A zoo in Lima is racing to save dozens of seabirds, including protected penguins, left covered in oil after 6,000 barrels of crude oil spilled off the coast of Peru following the Tonga tsunami.
More than 40 birds, including Humboldt penguins – listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature – have been brought to the Parque de Las Leyendas zoo after being rescued from polluted beaches and nature reserves.
“The birds’ prognosis is unclear,” biologist Liseth Bermudez told AFP.
“We are doing everything we can. This is not a common occurrence and we are doing our best.”
A team of veterinarians tend to the birds, bathing them with special detergents to remove the suffocating oil.
The animals also received antifungal and antibacterial drugs, as well as vitamins.
“We’ve never seen anything like it in the history of Peru,” Bermudez said, while tending to a bird.
“We didn’t think it was going to be this big.”
Peru has declared an environmental emergency after nearly a million liters (264,000 gallons) of crude spilled into the sea last Saturday when a tanker was hit by large waves while unloading at a refinery.
The abnormally large waves were triggered by the eruption of an undersea volcano near the Tonga archipelago, thousands of kilometers (miles) away.
The spill near Lima stained beaches and harmed the fishing and tourism industries, and crews worked tirelessly to clean up the mess.
Contaminated bird food
Biologist Guillermo Ramos of Peru’s Serfor Forest Service said more animals would die if the oil spilled.
“There are species here that feed on shellfish and fish that are already contaminated,” he said.
Serfor staff have found numerous dead birds and sea otters on beaches and in nature reserves since the spill, he added.
More than 150 species of birds in Peru depend on the sea for food and breeding.
Among the birds rescued alive but in need of help are various types of cormorants and six Humboldt penguins.
Juan Carlos Riveros, scientific director of the rescue NGO Oceana Peru, said the oil could affect the reproductive capacity of some animals and cause birth defects, especially in birds, fish and turtles.
Sea currents spread the spilled oil along the coast more than 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the refinery, affecting 21 beaches, according to the health ministry, which warned would-be bathers to stay away.
The government has demanded compensation from the Spanish oil company Repsol, which owns the tanker.
But the company denies responsibility, saying maritime authorities issued no warnings of freak waves after Tonga’s eruption.
© 2022 AFP