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Ecorubric 17:45 17 Dec 2020

Red Book birds in danger: how pelicans are rescued in Ukraine

Tuzly Lagoons National Nature Park is a habitat of curly and pink pelicans listed in the Red Book. However, it's not the state that is fighting for their preservation, but scientists and charitable foundations. Let's figure out why.

Photo: Andrii Horb

Flora and fauna in the territory of Ukraine are surprisingly rich. Nevertheless, there's a critical lack of protected areas, and those existing don't receive adequate funding even for protection. One of them is Tuzly Lagoons National Nature Park in the Odesa region, nesting and habitat for many birds, including pelicans. It's not a mistake. In fact, two types of pelicans fly to Ukraine every year: pink and curly. Both are included in the Red Book of Ukraine. They arrive in early spring and feed in the Tuzly Lagoons until November, but now, because of humans' uncontrolled use of resources, pelicans are in danger of extinction.

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Photo: Andrii Horb

How a Cordon appeared in the Tuzly Amazonia

There's a wild territory in the Tuzly Lagoons, called the Tuzly Amazonia. It's a piece of marshy and steppe terrain between the Black Sea and limans, where pelicans come to. The park's area is enormous, almost 28 thousand hectares, and the Tuzly Amazonia is located 40 kilometers from the head office. It was virtually impossible for the park's employees to reach there, and even more so, to monitor the area.

пеликаны Украина

Photo: Andrii Horb

Imagine a huge unprotected area where many rare birds live. Such a place can become a real Eldorado for poachers. The lack of funding from the state didn't give the park staff any chance to protect the birds.

The situation continued until the end of 2017 when the recently created charity foundation "Safe Life Development" heard about the park and offered cooperation. Then no one could've imagined that it would change the situation in the Tuzly Amazonia, and also radically alter the foundation's life. They decided to work together on a project dedicated to the curly pelicans that don't nest in the park and are also listed as endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Thanks to this project, the foundation later changed its name to "Peli can live."

Yana Bobrova, co-founder and executive director of the Peli Can Live charity foundation, says, "The very next day after a telephone conversation with Ivan Rusiev, the acting director of the Tuzly Lagoons National Park at that time, my colleague Maria Kozachenko and I went from Kyiv to the Park in order to develop a plan that would lead to creating favorable conditions for the existence and nesting of pelicans, and hoped to see them. But we didn't get to see pelicans that day, as it was a heavy downpour, and driving through washed-out field roads from the park office to the places where pelicans could live was unrealistic. Nevertheless, we spent the entire day with the park team at the round table. By day's end, we had a plan of action. Subsequently, we were gradually implementing it together. It was necessary to start with solving the key problem: reducing the factor of concern for pelicans, i.e. preventing poaching, and creating a territory of controlled tourism. To do this, it was necessary to build a security house (also known as a tourist center), which would ensure the permanent presence of the Park employees in the Tuzly Amazonia. And also, relying on the experience of the Greek and Bulgarian parks, we came up with the idea to build platforms for nesting pelicans to protect them from mammalian predators.

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Round table work at "Tuzly Lagoons," November 2017. Photo: Yana Bobrova

пеликаны Украина

The first trip to the Tuzly Lagoons National Park, November 2017. Photo: Yana Bobrova

It only remains to find funding. We'd applied for an international grant. We didn't receive it, but we gained valuable recommendations. And we decided not to give up, but continue to seek funding together with the Park."

"Every year, the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources of Ukraine allocates about 100 thousand hryvnias for the park's activities (gasoline, business trips, household expenses, etc.) besides the salary fund. No funds are given for development," Ivan Rusiev, head of Park's Research Department, says.

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Photo: Andrii Horb

And then the incredible happened: on December 27, 2017, the specialized Ministry allocated money to the park: 200 thousand hryvnias. However, the financing conditions were extremely strict. We had to implement the funds in 3 days, before January 1, 2018. Since the primary task of our project was to ensure the round-the-clock presence of park employees in the Tuzly Amazonia, we decided to build a more reliable construction, but these funds were clearly not enough.

Fortunately, Irina Vykhrystiuk (a new acting director of the park) found contractors who agreed to build a small wooden house. But it had to be insulated; windows, exterior and interior doors had to be inserted and treated with wood preservative and varnished. Without funding, it made no sense to transport materials to the park. Therefore, a built house shell was waiting to be picked up. The Park employees understood that they would receive no more government sponsorship.

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Ivan Rusiev, head of the research department of Tuzly Lagoons National Park. Photo: Andrii Horb

"We continued to look for funding, and we found it in April 2018, with rather non-standard conditions: creating an environmental project that will actually benefit nature," Yana Bobrova says. "We didn't have a share of distrust that it was an amazing opportunity to complete a project in the Tuzly Amazonia."

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Yana Bobrova, Co-Founder and CEO of the Peli Can Live Foundation. Until 2017, she'd worked for an international bank. She left her prestigious position by organizing the Peli Can Live charity foundation with friends. Photo: Andrii Horb

With the funds, a house was completed, which serves as both a tourist center and guardhouse (called "Cordon" in the Park). It's small, only 30 square meters, which contains 3 rooms: a kitchen, a bedroom for employees on duty, and a third room is used as a visitor center for tourists.

They built a bird-watching tower right on the roof of the house (which gives a special charm to Cordon).

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Photo: Andrii Horb

They also built a toilet, installed solar panels (after all, there's no electricity in the Tuzly Amazonia), sent over a weather station, installed 24-hour video surveillance. Insurance company "Universalna" responded to Yana's request to hand over the decommissioned office furniture from the Odesa office, and the auditing company Baker Tilly Ukraine even sent a corporate team of volunteers to help build a platform for nesting pelicans and build a camouflage bungalow for bird watching.

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Construction of a bird-watching bungalow together with the Baker Tilly Ukraine team. Photo: Ivan Rusiev

The wooden platform rises slightly over land and water, protecting pelicans from mammalian predators. They borrowed the idea of its construction from the Greek national park Kerkini. According to the park's information, it takes from 1 to 5 years for pelicans to get used to such a structure. So they still have enough time and just wait, hoping they'll accept their platform.

The park staff removed several hundred kilograms of cartridges from the territory of the Tuzly Amazonia. Now it's poaching-free. Tens of thousands of birds gather here to rest, spend the night, and feed.

The house serves not only as a place for inspectors to stay but also as temporary housing for scientists of all kinds of biology professions: ornithologists, entomologists, botanists, ichthyologists, and others. And the Tuzly Amazonia has become a place of inspiration for connoisseurs of wildlife.

In 2019, the Park, with the help of Peli Can Live, organized a children's summer camp for children from nearby villages. Kids were in the camp for free, but to reach it, they had to complete several tasks created by the Park. For 10 days, specialists from all kinds of biology professions passed on their knowledge to children. And most importantly, they promoted love for nature, science, and native land.

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Photo: Yulia Viesielova

Especially for the camp, the Park built 2 large gazebos so everyone could hide from the sun (during classes and eating) and an additional tower for watching birds.

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Photo: Ihor Bobrov

Nature's enemies. Who's killing an entire ecosystem?

Now an even more global problem has occurred in the park: lagoons, where pelicans live, have become shallow. Of course, climate change influences this, but the anthropogenic factor has an even more catastrophic effect. The only natural gap between the lagoons and sea was barbarously closed by a private company. Moreover, the enterprise poaches the mullet, feeding here, arriving in early spring, and leaving for the Black Sea depths for the winter. The shallowing of 5 thousand hectares has led to a radical change of the ecosystem. Salt remaining at lagoons' bottom is being blown away by the wind, gets into the soil, making it unsuitable for the growth of many plants. The areas of shallow waters where birds fed and lived diminished.

"The lagoons are filled with seawater. There a constant water exchange is happening. Since many rivers have dried up, seawater is in fact the only water source in the lagoons. Now a natural cutoff, 100 meters wide and 3 deep, has been closed by OK Granit. For the sake of huge profits, they disrupted the delicate ecosystem, leaving only a small stream of water. The company makes colossal fish capture up to 600 tons of fish per year, and it's tens of millions of hryvnias," Ivan Rusiev explains.

"This happened in plain view of border guards, prosecutors, police, and all bodily structures that should help and protect the national treasure," the scientist continues. "In fact, everyone washed their hands. They left us alone, and for several years now we haven't been able to open the cutoff. We are looking for sponsors, they give us money, we start work. But then bandits show up and close this gap anew under the guise of deputies. At the moment, unfortunately, we don't have water exchange."

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Photo: Andrii Horb

Such incidents are regular for Ukraine. Objects being a national treasure protected by international conventions, are simply killed for profit. The park's management doesn't give up and continues to fight ecosystem destroyers, but, unfortunately, it's virtually impossible to do something when millions are at stake.

New Park residents

This summer, 2 pelicans appeared at the branch of one of the largest chain seafood restaurants in the Odesa region in the village of Nikolaievka. As it turned out, they bought birds from poachers, who had clipped their wings to prevent them from flying away. Ivan Rusiev found out about this outrageous incident and invited a Park's friend, animal rights activist Vladislav Balinskyi, to go there as an environmental inspector on a volunteer basis and find out the whole situation, and warn the restaurant owners that they should hand over pelicans to Tuzly Lagoons National Park for rehabilitation to give the pelicans a chance to return to the wild nature. The Park management contacted the restaurant, explaining to them that the birds are listed in the Red Book and cannot be kept in such conditions. The restaurant made the right decision to pass on the birds to the Park and even helped transport pelicans. According to the restaurant's representatives, they didn't know that the purchased birds belonged to the species listed in the Red Book of Ukraine.

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Photo: Andrii Horb

When they brought the birds to the park, it turned out that they were crippled: "We thought that the brought pelicans were socializing among those in the park, but I didn't know that their primary wings were so severely clipped," Ivan Rusiev told us. "Large black flight feathers on the wings give pelicans the ability to fly, but poachers snatched them out. When these birds were brought to our park, I noticed that they physically couldn't take off: they flap their wings, but that does nothing. Pink pelicans fly away early from us, unlike curly pelicans, and now these two pink pelicans won't survive in the cold conditions of lagoons. Moreover, pink pelicans, unlike curly pelicans, hunt for fish in flocks, and the flocks will be here only in the spring of next year. In the summer, pelicans change their feathers and we believe that these pelicans will grow them back. The birds will hunt, and in the fall they'll fly to warmer regions to return again to Tuzly Lagoons National Park."

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Photo: Andrii Horb

For new park residents, two aviaries (for night and day stays) were constructed on the park office territory. Inside each, Peli Can Live charity foundation, with the support of Tiandy Ukraine, installed surveillance cameras. The broadcast is on YouTube twenty-four-seven, and anyone can watch the birds in real-time.

The project's purpose is, on the one part, to give viewers to understand pelicans' living, and on the other part, to explain that they don't belong in the aviary, but in the wild. Are they comfortable without wings? Is watching the birds scatter and flap their wings (while walking in an outdoor aviary), try to take off, and not be able to comfortable for us? It's also crucial that bird watchers can monitor their condition: activity, appetite, and how they interact with each other and other birds, and make decisions that would be difficult to make without cameras:

"I often watch them, especially at night," the park's chief birdwatcher replies when asked why there are cameras in the aviary. "We added two more birds to the pelicans: a bird of prey, a buzzard, brought by tourists without flight and tail feathers, and a stork. I established that the bird of prey was disturbing the pelicans, and we separated them. Now I know when they sleep and eat. We receive information that we didn't have before."

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Photo: Andrii Horb

In the spring, the Park and the Peli Can Live charity foundation jointly plan to find an opportunity to transport pelicans to the wilder part of the park, Tuzly Amazonia. To do this, it's necessary to create conditions for their guaranteed existence. So they need to buy a freezer for the Cordon to store food for pelicans, staying in the national park for rehabilitation. To keep the freezer running smoothly, they need to add battery power to their existing solar power station. It's also important to create conditions in those aviaries where they live. They need a more extensive bathroom, and the Park also constantly needs funding to buy fish. If you want to support this project, then you can transfer funds to the account of a charity foundation using the following details:

CO CF PELI CAN LIVE
USREOU code 41215609
PJSC CB "PRIVATBANK," Kyiv
Sort Code 305299
Account: UA083052990000026007036216712
Payment Details: Charity contribution (to help pelicans)

Not by funds alone

Bird populations are shrinking at a cosmic rate. According to research by Birdlife International, because of violations from 2009 to 2017, 14 million birds died in the EU alone (by direct killing, poaching). "And given the dubious reliability of self-assessments by member states, this number is likely an underestimate. Sometimes, the districts didn't provide reports at all for several years!" the preview to the analysis reads. Therewith, according to a 2020 report by WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature), over the past 50 years, 68% of the total number of all vertebrate populations out of over 4300 species monitored have been lost.

Therefore, each of us should contribute to conserving populations. We asked Ivan Rusiev how. This is what he recommends:

  1. Don't hunt wild birds. Try to dissuade dad, grandfather, brother, acquaintances of hunters: it's better to shoot in a shooting range.
  2. Winter is approaching. The birds need to be fed, but one must do it correctly. You can spend a little of your resources and buy poultry feed, but ask in advance what kind of food they eat in your area.
  3. Take part in volunteer programs to clear passages in floodplains, build islands and other shelters for birds, and patrol protected areas to defend against poachers. You can do it through Tuzly Lagoons National Nature Park, through our park. Volunteers contact our park, and we'll invite them. That's the real help of actual people.
  4. Everything that you do in your life, do according to the principle – create without destroying our common fragile world and our common home.
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