Local wildlife experts await word to help Gulf animals

By Jonathan Hardison

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Wildlife experts are on standby this weekend as they wait to see if or when they'll be needed to assist with animals injured or affected by the massive oil spill heading towards the Gulf Coast.

Volunteers and staff at the Alabama Wildlife Rehabilitation Center spend hours each day feeding young birds who've been injured or forced from their habitat. This weekend, those same volunteers could wipe oil from animals along the path of the giant oil slick approaching the Gulf Coast.

"We are on standby, but we are preparing," said Beth Bloomfield, executive director of the center. "We've called up our volunteers who have experience working with oiled wildlife and they will mobilize if needed."

Several of the center's staff members have worked with oiled animals before, so the center is ready to train more volunteers and notify volunteer transporters from across the state to bring birds or other affected animals to the center if needed.

"It looks very likely that we will be involved, that the need will be great, and will last for some time," Bloomfield said.

"This is going to require a major response," said Dr. Clayton Hilton, a veterinarian at the Birmingham Zoo.

Dr. Hilton is already clearing his calendar for next week, anticipating a call from the coast.

"This is the breeding season for a lot of birds," Hilton said. "There are a lot of young birds that, if their parents died, they won't be able to be fed, they won't make it. Let alone, what it's going to do to the shellfish industry, it's going to be devastating."

Dr. Hilton says the leading experts in the country when it comes to dealing with oil-affected wildlife are already in Louisiana because of how bad they think this could be.

"It's really important for everyone to know that the need will be greatest down the road," Bloomfield said. "Right now there's nothing to do but standby and offer our good wishes, but the need will go on for some time. So it's good to make plans now if you can on how you may be able to help down the road."

The Wildlife Rehab Center plans to keep its staff near the phones all weekend and will have updated information on their website and Facebook page throughout this potential crisis.

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