Young Bird Dies at Zoo After Swallowing Vape Pen

In a tragic example of the ecological damage wrought by pollution, a bird in the care of New Zealand's Wellington Zoo has died as a direct result of swallowing a vape pen, according to stuff.co.nz.

The zoo, which announced the death in a Facebook post on May 31, identified the bird as a pied shag, a two-toned member of the cormorant family.

"Unfortunately we see animals with these sorts of problems regularly," the zoo wrote, adding that the episode served as a "sad reminder to please always tidy up after yourself and make sure these lovely birds don't mistake your rubbish for food."

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The bird, a juvenile male, was found in the Wellington suburb of Ōwhiro Bay in a "weak and emaciated" state and taken into custody by the local chapter of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which then dropped him off at the zoo, according to the post. The zoo's on-site veterinary clinic, known as the Nest Te Kōhanga, immediately performed an endoscopy, a medical procedure in which a narrow tube is inserted into a bodily orifice in order to examine internal organs and tissues at close range. The endoscopy revealed the cause of the bird's poor physical shape. He had swallowed a vape pen, a device that enables the inhalation of the aerosol produced by an e-cigarette.

"Someone probably just lost it. It was shiny, so I'm not surprised he picked it up," Nest team leader Shanna Rose told stuff.co.nz.

The pen's presence in the digestive tract would have inhibited feeding, Rose said. By the time the bird was found, he was "skin and bone," she added.

While the team immediately removed the pen, the bird went downhill and died overnight. In addition to starvation, he was probably suffering from "serious metal and nicotine poisoning," according to the post.

Since July 2020, The Nest has treated more than 26 pied shags for ingestion of foreign objects as varied as plastic bags and fishing hooks, a statistic that has Rose frustrated. Seabirds tend to consume objects that resemble their typical prey, New Zealand Department of Conservation principal science advisor Graeme Taylor told stuff.co.nz. He hypothesized the late shag mistook the pen for a minnow.

"A shag eating a vape probably thought it was a fish, and what looked like an easy meal turned out to be its last," he said.

Approximately one million seabirds die as a result of plastic pollution each year, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature Australia.

A vape pen visible in bird's stomach.
A vape pen is visible in the stomach of a pied shag that was treated at New Zealand's Wellington Zoo last month. Pied shags are a species of seabird similar to cormorants. Facebook/Wellington Zoo