When Omar El Oud and his father were out fishing one day, Omar noticed a huge white bird floating in the lake.
As they approached, they discovered it was a stranded pelican in desperate need of help.
“When we first rescued Ovi, he was bleeding from a cut on his leg and we realized his flight feathers were gone, as well as him being really dirty,” El Oud told The Dodo. “We later discovered he had a fever.”
They helped return the pelican to shore, and El Oud studied the best way to care for it. They were able to save Ovi’s life thanks to help from the Lebanese Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre.
In order to better care for Ovi, El Oud used positive reinforcement and Ovi rapidly caught on. “When he acted well, I’d give him a fish, and when he didn’t I’d just ignore it,” El Oud said.
“In less than a day, he became a very friendly bird toward me. [He’s a] very intelligent animal.”
After illegal wildlife smugglers cut off Ovi’s wings, it was too late for him to fly large distances. Fortunately, he had already arrived at the ideal location for him to regain his stamina.
Ali, El Oud’s father, is the manager of the Beirut, Lebanon, beachside restaurant Abou Mounir Fishery.
As time went on, the community banded together to help safeguard and care for Ovi.
El Oud fed Ovi around the port until the pelican figured out where the fish came from and became the restaurant’s most loyal customer.
Ovi is now a regular at the lively café, where he gets his daily snack. “Essentially, what he does is hang out down from the restaurant and does whatever he wants,” El Oud said.
“But sometimes if he’s hungry and wants food, he comes up by himself because he realized that’s where the food is coming from.”
He enjoys having his back and chest scratched, but only by those he trusts. El Oud added that “He sometimes follows us around and even tries to communicate with us vocally.”
Even though Ovi is healthy and happy in the marina a year after his rescue, El Oud wishes that humans had never intervened in his life.
“Something like this never should have happened,” El Oud said. “Ovi should have not been in this position but unfortunately, rules regarding Lebanese birds are not enforced well.”
It’s no secret that Ovi has become a restaurant mascot, but his family hopes that in the future, he might serve as a representation of how people should treat nature.
“Everyone here takes care of him. He’s become the symbol of this place. Hopefully, he won’t become domestic and will migrate again. We want him to have a life that a pelican should have.”