The San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s pelicans have bird lovers flocking to see them. At the Zoo, four young great white pelicans, two males and two females, live in an exhibit on Park Way, just down the slope from the birds of prey aviaries. They share their home with cormorants, ducks, and other water birds. Read a blog about their arrival: Pelican Keeper Chat.
At the Safari Park, pelicans have been one of its big success stories. The Park has assembled the most comprehensive and productive collection of pelicans in North America and is the only accredited facility with great white, Dalmatian, and pink-backed pelicans. The Park’s Africa Tram tour offers the chance to see all three pelican species. In the South Africa field exhibit, Dalmatian and great white pelicans live together. The Dalmatians are fond of nesting on the island in the exhibit, which is only accessible to keepers by boat.
In the Central Africa field exhibit, a dozen pelican youngsters, from all three species, spend their weaning period with two older birds that serve as mentors. Penny, an older female pink-backed pelican, is sort of the bird in charge, helping them learn the ropes. The Park’s African Forest houses three pairs of pink-backed pelicans and also features a small island for the birds to enjoy.
The use of the insecticide DDT almost wiped out pelicans and other birds by causing eggshells to thin. Pelicans received large doses of the chemical from the fish they ate, due to pesticide contamination in the water from run-off and the direct dumping of DDT waste, which affected the ocean’s food chain. In addition, nesting colonies were disturbed as more people moved to coastal areas. By 1970, brown pelicans were listed as endangered. The ban on DDT use in 1972 proved beneficial for pelicans, and their numbers gradually returned.
But another problem confronts the brown pelican. They have discovered that food is easily attained from fishermen in boats and on bridges or piers. What they haven’t discovered, however, is a way to avoid the fisherman’s dangerous hooks and lines. Birds have received serious injuries to almost every part of their body from barbed hooks. When fisherman snag a pelican, they often cut their lines rather than bringing the bird in and carefully removing the hook. And the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has caused the slow decay of mangrove swamps where thousands of the birds used to nest.
Likewise, things are looking grim for the Dalmatian pelican, which is native to eastern Europe and parts of Asia. As a ground nester, shrinking wetlands caused its population to drop. But recent conservation efforts, including legal protection, have greatly helped this pelican species. Although it is still a vulnerable species, there is some hope!
Even though pelicans may be unusual looking, they have successfully adapted to their various habitats for millions of years. So far there are no endangered pelican species, and we hope that with continuing conservation education, this is how their status will remain.
You can help us bring species back from the brink by supporting the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy. Together we can save and protect wildlife around the globe.