University of Central Arkansas students who are passionate about wildlife decided to save animals soaked in thick oil Tuesday.

“They care about wildlife,” said Vickie McDonald, associate professor of biology. “It’s having respect for life.”

About 25 students and some community volunteers headed to areas near Lake Conway on Tuesday afternoon to sight birds and animals and report what they found to agencies with permits to handle wildlife. Some birds are federally protected, and officials asked volunteers “not to approach wildlife for their safety and the safety of the wildlife,” according to an ExxonMobil Corp. news release Tuesday.

The search to save wildlife comes after the Mayflower oil spill dumped thousands of barrels of oil and forced homeowners to evacuate. The oil has killed wildlife. 

What caused the spill from the 1940s Exxon pipeline Friday afternoon remains unknown. 

The students found two more dead birds and one alive Tuesday, McDonald said.

If the students hadn’t been there to identify birds and animals covered in oil, it would mean “certain death” for the wildlife, she said.

Students wanted to help but for those finding the birds, it was “unhappy,” McDonald said.

“I think it’s sort of a reality check in understanding that working with wild animals is hard work, but it’s ultimately rewarding work,” McDonald said.

According to a news release Tuesday, “Fourteen oiled ducks, two turtles,and one muskrat have been recovered for treatment. Two additional ducks have been found dead.”

McDonald called the area “nasty” but said the environment should recover. Many areas were unaffected, and Exxon is controlling and cleaning the site, she said. 

About 12,000 barrels of water and oil have been cleaned up, “representing most of the free standing oil,” the release said. 

McDonald said she and the students discovered oil in a cove area to the south and east of the lake. That means the oil has moved from the west side of Interstate-40, made its way to a storm ditch and into a creek and under the interstate, McDonald said.  

Exxon spokesman Alan Jeffers said the company looks into all reports of oil. 

Spokeswoman Kim Jordan said in text via her cell phone that boom has been laid as a precautionary measure to “protect the lake.”

“We will be cleaning up any oil in the marsh area as part of the overall effort,” Jordan said.

(Staff writer Scarlet Sims can be reached by email at or by phone at 505-1246. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to Send us your news at