Wildlife entangled in fishing gear and soccer net

December 18, 2023

Two eastern cottontails and a brown pelican were among the fifty-one animals admitted to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida this past week. Other admissions include a fox squirrel, a blue gray gnatcatcher, a common ground dove, a pileated woodpecker and a gopher tortoise.

Pelican Hooked and Entangled in Fishing Gear

A roofer working near Doctors Pass called the wildlife hospital after seeing a pelican in distress. The roofer could see the pelican in the water, entangled in fishing line dragging a smaller white bird along behind it. Although the pelican managed to get up on the rocks at the Pass, further struggling occurred when the deceased laughing gull got wedged amongst the rocks.

Wildlife Hospital Volunteer, Lauren Malinowski, responded to the call for assistance at Doctors Pass. When she arrived, Lauren could see how thoroughly entangled the brown pelican was; the deceased gull and pelican were both hooked and the line dragging behind each bird was tangled together in a mass of fishing line.

Lauren immediately worked to free the pelican from the rocks and transported the deceased gull and the pelican to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital.

The pelican received a physical exam and radiographs were taken to ensure it hadn’t ingested any fish hooks or line. Staff disinfected the wounds on the pelican’s wings and feet caused by the fishing line and hook, administered pain medication, vitamin supplements, an antibiotic, Chinese herbs, and settled the pelican in an animal recovery enclosure in the bird room to rest.

The pelican was alert and active and began eating on its own the second day at the wildlife hospital. The wounds on the pelican’s feet require daily treatment as they continue to heal.

Please, if you participate in angling activities, be responsible. Ensure you aren’t negatively impacting wildlife. 

Never cast your line if birds are flying nearby. If you accidentally hook a bird, do not cut the line. Allowing a hooked bird to fly off dragging line behind it is often a death sentence – case in point with the laughing gull. Reel the bird in carefully, but quickly.

A bird struggling against a taut line may cause the line to break and allow the bird to fly off entangled in hooks and line. Covering the bird’s head with a towel once it is reeled in will help calm the bird. If the hook is not deeply embedded, gently push the hook through the skin until the barb is exposed. Clip the barb off using a wire cutter and back the hook out. Step away and allow the bird time to gain its bearings and fly off. If the hook is deeply embedded, or if the hook has been ingested, contain the bird and bring it to the wildlife hospital for immediate medical attention.

Consider using barbless hooks. Many fishing websites discuss best practices for catch and release fishing, the most common being the use of barbless hooks. Barbless hooks are easier to extract if you accidentally hook a non-targeted species. Barbless hooks also allow for quicker release and lower fish mortality.

Eastern Cottontail Rabbits Entangled in Net

The eastern cottontail rabbits were admitted within two days of each other after being found entangled and struggling in soccer nets. The two nets were located on school playing fields. The rabbits’ injuries were similar to some extent, both were dull when handled, had increased respiratory effort, were holding their heads low to the ground and had suffered musculoskeletal trauma with nerve impingement. One rabbit also had lacerations across the back of her neck and along her right hip.

Treatment protocols for the rabbits were similar, the rabbits received multiple pain medications, laser therapy, subcutaneous electrolytes and were placed on oxygen in animal intensive care units.

Even with intensive treatment, one rabbit’s condition deteriorated and it was apparent the only option for her was humane euthanasia. The other rabbit has shown slight improvements each day, she continues to receive care at the von Arx Wildlife Hospital. 

The dangers sports netting poses to wildlife is widespread anywhere sports playing fields exist. In Naples, the danger to wildlife increases because there are a high number of golf facilities that have protective netting at their driving ranges putting birds at risk. 

These two rabbits suffered significant trauma as they futilely struggled to free themselves. Other animals admitted to the wildlife hospital injured in sports netting have suffered from extreme dehydration, heat stroke, stress, loss of limbs from constriction injuries caused by compromised circulation and death.

Both rabbits being injured at local schools provides important learning opportunities for students to become environmental stewards and truly understand that their actions can have a positive or negative effect on the world. The suffering and death netting causes can be eliminated in the majority of situations if schools made it mandatory for nets to be taken down or raised up a few feet off the ground after practice or games. If enacted, such simple actions could stop needless suffering and death for scores of native wild animals in our community.

Special Thanks

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) and Naples Beach Patrol deserve kudos for their assistance with animal rescues last week. FWC responded to calls about an injured coyote at the Vineyards. A resident saw the coyote dragging himself on the golf course, unable to use his hind legs; the coyote managed to hunker down against the back of a house near where he was first seen on the golf course. FWC officers captured the coyote and transported him to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital. The concern and effort FWC showed for the coyote is commendable and truly reduced the amount of suffering the coyote endured. 

Naples Beach Patrol assisted with the rescue of a Florida softshell turtle. A Beach Patrol officer stopped and helped when he saw the softshell turtle trying to cross a road. The following day, the same turtle was seen trying to cross the road. The Beach Patrol picked up the turtle and set it near the edge of a pond. When the turtle turned away from the pond, the officer realized it might be ill and brought it to von Arx Wildlife Hospital for an exam. The turtle was sick and is now receiving treatment. The astuteness of the Beach Patrol officer allowed the turtle to receive the care it required. Sincere thanks to everyone involved in these two cases!

Recent Releases

A cooper’s hawk, four eastern cottontails, an eastern screech owl, a red-shouldered hawk, an osprey, a barred owl, a Virginia opossum, and eastern harvest mouse, five grey squirrels and three raccoons were released this past week. 

Opportunities to Help

Visit our website to learn about opportunities to get involved. Pease consider volunteering, if you are unable to give of your time as a volunteer, become a member or donate. Donations are tax-deductible and make a tremendous impact on our ability to procure needed supplies. Your support will help the Conservancy continue to protect Southwest Florida’s water, land, wildlife and future. 

Joanna Fitzgerald is director of the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, 1495 Smith Preserve Way, Naples, Florida 34102. Call 239-262-2273 or see conservancy.org.