LIMA (AFP) – A Lima zoo is racing to save dozens of seabirds, including protected penguins, after 6,000 barrels of crude oil spilled off Peru’s coast due to waves from a volcanic eruption in the South Pacific.
More than 40 birds, including Humboldt penguins – listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature – were brought to the Parque de Las Leyendas zoo after being rescued from polluted beaches and nature reserves.
“We have never seen anything like this in the history of Peru,” biologist Liseth Bermudez told AFP, while tending to a bird.
“We didn’t think it was going to be of this magnitude.”
A team of veterinarians is caring for the birds, bathing them with special detergents to remove the suffocating oil.
The animals have also been given anti-fungal and anti-bacterial drugs, as well as vitamins.
“The birds’ prognosis is unclear,” Bermudez said. “We are doing everything we can.”
Peru has declared an environmental emergency after almost 1.2 million litres of crude oil spilled into the sea last Saturday when a tanker was hit by big waves while offloading at a refinery.
The abnormally large waves were triggered by the eruption of an undersea volcano near the archipelago of Tonga, thousands of kilometres away.
The spill near Lima has fouled beaches and harmed the fishing and tourism industries, with crews working non-stop to clean up the mess.
The Environment Ministry said on Sunday that more than 180 hectares – equivalent to around 270 football fields – of beach and 713 hectares of sea were affected, as sea currents spread the spilled oil along the coast.
The Health Ministry has warned would-be bathers to stay away from at least 21 affected beaches.