By: Asma Mahdi
The Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C. is home to Wendy and Tinkerbell, two gals that used to soar high across the blue sky in their heyday. But these two are not quite the Disney sidekicks that you are likely picturing. Saving Peter Pan from the evil dwellings of Captain Hook is far out of their character. They are two brown pelicans exhibited along American Trail, a series of exhibits at the Zoo that feature iconic North American wildlife.
Wendy and Tinkerbell were found entangled in fishing line and rescued by the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary in Indian Shores, Florida. After rehabilitation, the Zoo acquired Wendy and Tinkerbell in 2001, since they could not be released into the wild with their sustained injuries. The pelicans now serve as living reminders of the damage that abandoned fishing gear can cause to wildlife.
“Marine debris is extremely detrimental to birds that make their home in or around large bodies of water,” explained Chelsea Grubb, animal keeper on American Trail.
“One of the most common issues with marine debris and birds is entanglement. Dozens of species of birds get caught in fishing line, tires, and pieces of plastic every year. Marine debris can have a huge impact on a bird’s ability to fly. When a bird becomes entangled, their aptitude for flight is either compromised or lost all together. Birds that are unable to fly often face painful, long, and unpleasant deaths. They starve, drown, become susceptible to predators and can’t seek shelter during harsh weather or environmental conditions. If and when birds are actually able to separate themselves from the debris, they often have debilitating injuries to their bones, ligaments and feathers, all of which are parts that have to work together for a bird to take flight.”
Grubb also mentions that birds “can also suffer from infections that can manifest in wounds that result from debris injuries. If untreated, these infections will lead to death. Birds that cannot fly are also unable to breed. This is particularly serious with species of birds that are already considered threatened or endangered.”
In 2013, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation funded “Impact of Marine Debris: Educating National Zoo Visitors,” an education and outreach project through the Fishing for Energy program. As part of the project, the American Trail exhibit will feature messages, new graphics, interactive displays, and information from volunteer interpreters that will raise awareness about the impact of fishing debris and motivate visitors take action and make choices that can reduce and prevent its impact. The new exhibit features will debut by spring 2014.
Wendy and Tinkerbell serve as the Zoo’s marine debris ambassadors. Through their story, the Zoo’s millions of annual visitors will gain an understanding of how we can all be better stewards of marine environments and learn more about the marine debris issue and every day solutions that will help prevent injuries to marine life. To learn more about the American Trail and to keep up to date on the current exhibits visit: http://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/americantrail/