Oil Spill



Two hundred and sixty-six Canada geese were being readied and loaded in trailers for relocation on Friday, June 18, following an intensive effort to save their lives by staff and volunteers from Utah’s Hogle Zoo and other agencies.  “The adults are being relocated to the Clear Lake Water Fowl Management area near Delta and the juveniles to Ogden.  They should be happy in their new homes,” said Mark Hadley, spokesperson for the Division of Wildlife Resources.  The birds left for their new homes; the media, which had congregated earlier for the relocation, had departed and all Zoo staff involved had moved on to their regular Friday duties.  Life had seemingly returned to normal.

Rewind to Saturday, June 12 where it all began, and normalcy took a back seat to emergency.  At approximately 12:05 p.m., Hogle Zoo received a frantic call for immediate aid from Tracy Aviary.  Aviary staff explained that a crude oil pipeline located in the foothills above Salt Lake City had ruptured overnight, sending 33,000 gallons of toxic oil cascading into Red Butte Creek and ultimately ending up in the pond at Liberty Park.  The oil spill coated an estimated 220 geese and ducks.  Personnel was desperately needed to capture and then relocate the birds for cleaning.   A convoy of five Zoo vehicles with a contingent of zookeepers and other staff, led by Animal Care Supervisor Jane Larson, was immediately dispatched to the Park. Another team of Zoo staff and volunteers, headed up by Animal Care Supervisor Jeff Landry and Associate Director Animal Health Dr. Nancy Carpenter prepared the new L.S. Skaggs Animal Health Center and the old bear grotto area for the arrival of the birds. Zookeeper Jill Cox, who was previously sent by the Zoo to assist in the clean up of oil-coated penguins in South Africa, instructed the team on the procedures to be used for removing the oil as they waited for their first patients.

Each worker donned Hazmat suits, double gloves and boots for protection from the toxic petroleum. Soon a steady stream of birds, mostly Canada geese, began arriving. The birds were first wiped with vegetable oil, which helped break down the oil. Next, they were washed in soapy tubs of Dawn dishwashing detergent, which features a very good grease cutter. Each bird was washed on average about three times in order to clear the oil or about one hour per bird. One bird was washed 15 times before the oil could be removed effectively, according to hospital staff. The birds were rinsed (all contaminated water was held in the old bear pool and a Hazmat team was called to pump it from the pool later in the evening) and dried thoroughly as it was an unseasonably chilly day for mid-June.  “Most of the birds, after you put them in the initial dip, realize you are there to help them and calm down throughout the rest of the process,” stated Abbi Farnsworth, a Salt Lake County animal control officer.

Staff from the Zoo’s concession operator, Service Systems Associates, joined in by providing much welcomed sustenance throughout the effort – sandwiches, pizza, snacks and plenty of water and soda.  Other Zoo staff helped tote hay bales, fill sand bags, do laundry, run for supplies, mitigate public and media interest as well as handled other often overlooked, yet essential duties.

The birds were then moved to the new Zoo hospital and checked over by the Zoo vet staff. The birds were under observation in the hospital quarantine area until a determination concerning relocation could be made by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Fish & Wildlife and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

On Sunday, June 13, the work continued as another 40 – 50 birds were cleaned, checked and housed.  Overall, there were only about a dozen birds lost, most of them young juveniles.

Chevron officials, who claimed responsibility for the spill, later visited the site to express their thanks. On Thursday, July 15, Chevron funded a “thank you” luncheon in the Zoo’s auditorium for all Zoo personnel involved in the waterfowl clean-up efforts.  Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon attended the event to thank staff and volunteers.  Additionally, Mayor Ralph Becker and the Salt Lake City Council expressed their thanks and recognized Zoo and Aviary staff in a round of applause at the City Council meeting July 13.

“Hogle Zoo is more than a popular local attraction,” said Zoo Assistant Director Kimberly Davidson.  “We are also all about education, conservation and assisting as a community resource in times of crisis.  It was our honor to be involved in this effort to save the lives of hundreds of waterfowl.”

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