Hurricanes, floods, heat waves, and wildfires all impact wildlife
Soggy, sad possum weathers Hurricane Harvey on a bridge railing.
You’d have to be living on another planet to miss the terrible devastation in Houston caused by Hurricane Harvey. First there were the high winds and heavy rain, then came the flooding. It was hard to believe the reports we were reading and watching on TV. Over 50 inches of rain in just a few days! We started seeing the impacts on humans, the evacuations, the daring rescues, etc. almost immediately. But! My usual complaint in situations like this is that I want to know about the animals, too. What about pets, farm animals, and wildlife? Why is everything all about us?
As a human who lost everything, including three beloved pets, when our house burned down in a wildfire, I understand that other humans want to know all about it. What can they do to help? How did we survive? Did we have insurance? What would we do next? Coverage of our disaster was on TV and in the papers, and it was mentioned that we lost our pets. People were every bit as interested in them as they were in us, so I know I am not the only one who is interested in what happens to the animals. For years after the fire, we wondered what had happened to our wild neighbors. The Mountain Quail that had just shown up with very young chicks; the grey fox family who visited almost nightly; the jack rabbits that got close enough that we could see distinguishing features, and so many more. They all lost their homes, too.
One big plus since Hurricane Katrina, is that the rules were changed and now when people are evacuated they are allowed to take their pets with them. Thank goodness for that. I have read many stories and watched many videos of people evacuating with pets, and other people going back in to rescue pets that had been left behind. Horses, cows, pigs, goats, chickens, etc. are all owned by humans, so someone is responsible for them, and I’m sure that responsible owners were doing everything possible to save them. Not so for wildlife. They are on their own.
Wildlife rescue stories are coming out of Houston. A terrified hawk landed in a taxi, and the kind-hearted driver got it to a rescue center; daily updates are being given and the outlook is good. Mexican Free Tailed Bats living under the Waugh bridge in Houston were drowning as the water level reached the top of the underside of the bridge. Many people rushed to help them. In a heartwarming video, two men in a rowboat were rescuing stranded opossums. Their boat was full of them. I saw a photo of a newscaster standing next to a soaked, and very scared opossum that somehow managed to get on a bridge railing. So sad, but also disappointing that the newscaster did nothing to help. A heartbreaking video showed a small herd of deer swimming frantically as they looked for higher ground. I read later that they made it. The wildlife rescue centers are overwhelmed. One center took in over 400 animals in four days. That is how many some centers will take in during a year. Baby squirrels that had been blown out of trees were being brought in in large numbers. The centers were training people how to care for them.
Closer to home, during our recent heat wave, my daughter was driving on Bonness Road when a huge bird fell to the ground in front of her car. She stopped immediately, as did others, and went to the aid of the bird. It was a red-tailed hawk laying in the road, obviously overcome by the heat. After the hawk came to, one of the men who stopped brought water over and the hawk was interested in drinking it. They also sprinkled water over the bird, to which it seemed to respond. A friend took the hawk to the Bird Rescue Center of Sonoma County. The hawk was not in good health to start with, which may explain why the heat affected it so much. At last report, the bird was doing OK. My daughter was impressed by the number of people who pulled over to offer help as well as thank her and the others for helping the hawk. Almost all of them expressed amazement at how beautiful and large the hawk was.
As I write this, Hurricane Irma is closing in on Florida, with Jose close behind; wildfires are burning throughout the state, and a large earthquake hit Mexico. My heart goes out to everyone affected by these disasters – humans and animals alike.
Sharon Ponsford is a a longtime volunteer with Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue and a former board member of the California Council of Wildlife Rehabilitators. She lives in Glen Ellen. If you have questions or would like to ask her about our local wildlife, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.