The Beast Corps: Hiding Behind Hotlines

By The Beast Corps Correspondent Ryne Ziemba…

Does BP Save Money By Letting Our Wildlife Die?

With the first tar balls washing up on the shores of the Florida Keys and the first oiled animals reported on the shore in Destin, it appears that Florida has begun to see the ecological effects of the great BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Fortunately for the wildlife though, is that many who work in the fields of biology, veterinary medicine, and environmental science are often individuals who posses a great deal of dedication to the complex systems of life. Many have already come, or are planning to come to our area to help minimize the impact of environmental devastation that this oil spill is projected to have on wildlife in the area. Unfortunately for Gulf Coast wildlife, is that scientists wanting to help must maneuver a complex web of BP’s bureaucratic nightmare of hotlines which has made helping injured animals extremely difficult for some.

One person that I interviewed, who asked not to have their name used, due to fear of a possible backlash from BP for sharing this information, said that they think BP plans to let oiled animals die because it will save the company money. This person, who I will refer to as ‘Steve’ left his job rehabilitating wildlife in South Florida to come and help out in Northwest Florida. He told me that he is very qualified, as he graduated from a veterinary technology program and, aside from rehabilitating wildlife in South Florida, has also volunteered for a program which rehabilitated wildlife in Africa.

‘Steve’ came to Destin recently to try to work with the Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge, which got its first oiled bird this week. He went to a BP sponsored HAZMAT training, which he was told several weeks ago that he would need in order to work with any wildlife affected by the oil spill. The training that ‘Steve’ went to just a few days ago was specifically for veterinary professionals and other scientists who are going to be collecting data. ‘Steve’ told me about his training, “An odd part of my training was that they talked about if you saw any oiled animals on the beach, you weren’t allowed to handle them. If you saw them, all you were allowed to do was to call a number and refer them to the BP hotline. Because they told us that if we pick up or touch any wildlife, we’re the ones who are liable if the animal dies.”

It may seem perplexing that those in a specialty HAZMAT training, many of whom were veterinarians, were being told this, but ‘Steve’ reiterated this to me. “They told us several times that we weren’t allowed to touch any animals-that we were supposed to call a hotline.”

However, on the same day that ‘Steve’ went to report for duty at the Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge, he was told that he had to volunteer for BP for three months before he could work with any animals, even though he was a trained professional who had relocated to the area just for this purpose.

This just happened to be on the first day that the Destin-based refuge received its first oiled bird. The pelican came in and was oiled, but those who were working at the refuge weren’t allowed to treat the bird beyond starting it on fluids. ‘Steve’ elaborated, “…they weren’t allowed to wash or administer activated charcoal, which is what you usually do when a bird has ingested toxins. It’s usually standard protocol for any bird that comes in.” Instead, the workers at the refuge had to follow BP’s protocol and call the BP hotline for injured wildlife. However, when they called BP’s hotline, no one answered. They waited for someone to call back, ‘Steve’ told me, which eventually happened – a staggering four hours later.

‘Steve’ explained that birds are very sensitive and can stress easily. Stress, he said, is the number one killer of birds that are being treated. Therefore, treating an injured bird is extremely time-sensitive.

‘Steve’ said that he spoke with a woman who worked at the Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge who said that the same thing happened previously when the refuge got its first oiled animal, a sea turtle. “BP told them that they should wait a minimum of three hours before they do anything anyway, with any oiled patient, because they want them to ‘stabilize’.” He said it was unclear what ‘stabilize’ meant in these situations. “Waiting three hours to me is really insane-intentionally,” ‘Steve’ added.

However, it might not be insane if your main interest is saving money with clean-up efforts, not saving the ecosystem, as many have criticized BP of. When I asked him why he thought BP might be keeping veterinarians’ hands tied in these time-sensitive matters, ‘Steve’ told me, “As soon as they administer medication, as soon as they start an I.V. drip, start activated charcoal, wash a bird, anything where they’re handling this animal-that is the BP tab running. It’s much cheaper for BP to let some wildlife die.” This could point to the possibility that BP, by encouraging veterinarians to not act during time-sensitive situations, an animal might die before treatment can be given, thus saving the multi-national corporation the expense of having to rehabilitate the wildlife.

‘Steve’ also said that it has been next to impossible to figure out who he should talk to in order to get the clearance from BP so that he can use his training to save animals. He said he is repeatedly referred back to BP’s seemingly ineffectual hotlines. “It’s not a lack of resources, it’s not a lack of people wanting to come help,” ‘Steve’ said. He did add that he understands that there must be necessary training for those wishing to work with animals, but this veterinary technician also stated, “They’re making it close to impossible to qualify to even do anything with animals, and I’m just horrified.”