The Namibian (Windhoek)

14 June 2012

Namibia: Pelican Rescue Still Going Strong

Pelicans hanging around the Walvis Bay waterfront area have become a regular and welcome sight to locals and tourists alike.

These pelicans were rescued by the Pelican Rehabilitation Project from a certain death.

The project has grown since 1997, when members of the public would bring small chicks blown by strong winds from their nests on the guano platform about 10 kilometres from the waterfront.

These chicks, separated and in no condition to fend for themselves, wash up on the beaches, where they are picked up by members of the public.

First started by the former owner of the Mola-Mola Safaris, Dries Dreyer, in 1995, the new owners decided to continue with what they view as a worthy cause despite some critical voices who feel that the project interferes with the course of nature.

The son of the current owner of Mola-Mola, Pieter Pretorius, feels that not helping the young chicks would mean certain death for them.

On top of that, he noted, these pelicans have become ambassadors for Walvis Bay.

"We are creating lives and create a fantastic opportunities," maintained Pretorius. "These birds, that otherwise would have died, have become such a big attraction." The project is wholly self-financed, and can cost the owners a pretty penny since the growing chicks can eat up to six to ten fish per day.

The pelican breeding season is usually during October and November.

Chicks finding their way to the rehabilitation centre are kept at the centre, which is nothing more than a small, shaded wooden pen between the businesses at the waterfront.

At night they are kept in the pen, but during the day they freely walk around the area, which explains why many of the grown birds that spent their first few months at the centre continuously return. The tamest and most popular bird, dubbed Lady Gaga, wobbles around on the waterfront like a house cat and poses with eager tourists wanting to take pictures of her.

So tame is Lady Gaga that she enters offices, and is then steered outside by the neck like the rudder of a boat.

Pretorius said the birds are force-fed for the first few of days after their arrival at the centre.

Once fledged, the pelicans are encouraged to fend for themselves, and most are integrated into the 'wild' pelican population at the nearby salt pans after about six months.

The pelicans would not have nested on the guano platform had it not been for the lagoon, Pretorius said.

Other injured birds are also taken to the centre where they are taken care of, or as was the case recently, allowed to die if beyond recovery.

During 1997 and 2005 the wetlands of Walvis Bay supported an estimated 156 000 water birds in summer and 82 000 in winter. It was reported that the site supported the largest number of waders in any wetland in southern Africa.

Walvis Bay was declared a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance in 1995, and has been declared one of Namibia's Important Bird Areas.

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