EAST AURORA, N.Y. (WKBW) — Volunteers at the Hawk Creek Wildlife Center in East Aurora are on "high-alert" as they keep watch over a 3-year-old Eurasian Lynx named "Tracker" who they fear may have eaten metal parts from a sky lantern that got into the big cat's enclosure.
Tracker was born at Hawk Creek and is part of its education program.
Earlier this week, sky lanterns fell into Hawk Creek with one getting close enough to Tracker's enclosure that the rare cat was able to pull it in, shred it, and possibly eat some of the lantern's metal parts.
"For something to come into our center that we can't control and eventually lead to the possible death of one of our animals, is heartbreaking," said Tiffany Cimino, conservation director for Hawk Creek Wildlife Center.
If Tracker did swallow some of the metal parts, they could puncture organs such as the cat's intestines.
While surgery is possible, there is a very high risk that the lynx would not survive the operation, or a have long-term complications.
Volunteers say it will take at least another week to see if Tracker is out of danger or not.
"There should be a law because a lot of people are not educated on the dangers of these," added Cimino.
Several states, and even some countries, have banned sky lanterns (also known as Chinese lanterns and wish lanterns).
The lanterns carry a burning element that has been known to cause fires across the country.
Wind conditions can carry the lanterns for miles and they can even pose a hazard for aircraft.
Surprisingly, New York State does not ban sky lanterns, even though the Office of Fire Prevention and Control feels the lanterns violate the NYS fire code.
In 2016, there was an effort to pass legislation in the NYS Assembly that would require a "tether" on sky lanterns.
The item was referred to the Assembly's Governmental Operations Committee where local Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes voted in favor of it.
However, the legislation has been stalled in Albany ever since.
"We can make a difference. This is one thing that we can choose not to do," said Barbara Haney from the SPCA Serving Erie County.
Haney said sky lanterns and balloon launches can severely hurt and kill wildlife because the animals don't know not to eat wires, ribbons and parts of the lantern or balloon.
Both the SPCA and Hawk Creek encourage people to use more environmentally friendly tributes at weddings, memorials and other special events.
- Bubbles: They are still beautiful to watch, but not harmful to the environment.
- Plant trees or flowers: This is a great lasting way to remember someone.
- Float flower petals: They will look beautiful flowing downstream and won’t kill innocent animals.