“Oh my goodness, how could anything have survived this?”
CAYO SANTIAGO, Puerto Rico––Hurricane Irma mostly missed the renowned Cayo Santiago rhesus macaque colony, on an island just east of the Puerto Rican mainland, but Hurricane Maria hit it head-on, at full Category 5 strength.
The thousand-odd macaques on Cayo Santiago are ninth generation descendants from the 406 survivors among 500, plus 14 gibbons, who were imported from India in 1938 by Clarence R. Carpenter for the School of Tropical Medicine in San Juan, a branch of the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and the University of Puerto Rico.
While the gibbons fared poorly, became dangerous to the research staff, and were eventually relocated to zoos, the macaques thrived.
“Easy” life ended by two hurricanes in two weeks
Still maintained by the University of Puerto Rico, the Cayo Santiago macaque research station is now funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
“Scientists from at least nine universities work on the island,” according to Ed Yong of The Atlantic, “which means commuting from the mainland town of Punta Santiago (often with bow-surfing dolphins in tow), and spending the day surrounded by turquoise, manatee-filled waters.
“The monkeys have it easy too,” Yong continued. “They have no natural predators. They have no permanent guests—no one stays on the island overnight. They have the run of the island—when researchers arrive, they eat lunch in cages while the monkeys roam freely. And they get regular supplies of monkey chow from the staff of the Caribbean Primate Research Center, to supplement what they can naturally forage.”
Rowing food to 1,000 monkeys
After Hurricane Maria, Yong wrote, New York University researcher James Higham “chartered a helicopter to send Angelina Ruiz-Lambides, associate director of the Cayo Santiago Field Station, to the island so she could assess the damage. Amid the tragedy, she phoned in that all six of the monkey groups on the island weathered the storm.
“You look at the island and think, ‘Oh my goodness, how could anything have survived this?’” Higham told Yong, describing extensive tree damage and flooding. “But the monkeys huddle. They hide. They’re creative. They find places of shelter and they know the terrain and habitat really well.”
“The feeding corrals, where monkeys would pick up their supplementary chow, have been demolished,” Yong reported. “With so much vegetation leveled, supplementary food is now all the more important. For now, researchers are loading the food directly onto boats in Punta Santiago, and rowing it across—fortunately, the dock at Cayo Santiago is one of few man-made structures that withstood Maria.”
What became of the patas monkeys?
The fate of other feral monkeys living in parts of Puerto Rico remains unknown, including the controversial patas monkey population of the Lajas region in the southwestern part of the mainland. Descended from monkeys who escaped from research colonies perhaps as recently as the 1970s, the estimated 1,000 patas monkeys were slated for extermination in 2008, but appear to have mostly evaded the USDA Wildlife Services gunners and trappers who were sent to do the job, at cost of $11.8 million.
Power outages menace lab animals
Nothing is known, either, about the condition of animals in university laboratories that were in the paths of Hurricanes Irma and Maria––or even about how many of those laboratories housed animals, of what species.
Prolonged losses of electricity, experienced on all of the islands hit by the hurricanes, is potentially lethal to animals housed indoors, dependent on electric pumps to keep them watered and on electric fans or air conditioning to keep them from overheating.
Chiefly because of electrical outages, precluding the use of computers and lighting, all eleven University of Puerto Rico campuses closed indefinitely after Hurricane Maria.
Back-up generators, but no fuel
The many University of Puerto Rico animal laboratories presumably had back-up generators, but how long they could run amid an island-wide shortage of fuel of every kind is unclear.
There are also about 50 pharmaceutical manufacturing plants in Puerto Rico, some of which are believed to have animal colonies for use in research and development and quality control testing. All were “effectively idled” by lack of electricity, according to USA Today.
The University of the Virgin Islands’ two campuses in St. Thomas and St. Croix were both severely damaged, along with three University of the West Indies facilities, one of which, in Dominica, was reportedly almost totally destroyed.
The University of the West Indies locations affected, in Anguila and Tortola, suffered relatively minimal harm, reported Elizabeth Redden of Inside Higher Education. But they too lost electricity for several days each.
Sisserou & Jako parrots
As well as killing at least 15 people, Hurricane Maria may have brought about the extinction of the endangered Sisserou and Jako parrot species, native to Dominica.
“The Caribbean island nation of 73,000 residents is known for its lush greenery, punctuated by waterfalls and rain forests,” reported Faith Karimi of CNN. “But nearly two days after Maria made landfall, an aerial survey showed trees snapped and strewn across the landscape, and the island stripped of vegetation. The rain forests appear to have vanished, with roofs torn away, homes ripped open and debris littering areas like confetti.”
Before Hurricane Maria, the Sisserou and Jako parrots lived chiefly in the Dominica Botanical Gardens. Hurricane David, hitting in 1979, “wrought havoc on the gardens. Nearly all the trees were uprooted and many were blown to pieces. However, the gardens were cleared of debris and replanted,” the Dominica Weekly web site recounts, but as yet has given no information about the post-Maria state of the facilities, or about the parrots.
Horses & donkeys
Much more information is available about the post-hurricane status of horses––although no word has reached ANIMALS 24-7 yet about the feral horses of the Puerto Rican highlands, and little information about donkeys, many of whom were left to fend for themselves after the evacuation of the entire human population of Dominica.
Becoming “aware of the need for equine hurricane relief after Hurricane Irma, when the Cayman Islands Humane Society passed along an urgent request for horse feed from a veterinarian in Tortola, British Virgin Islands,” and “realizing that the cost of providing feed and supplies to horses located in the British Virgin Islands would be more than it could afford,” the Cayman Islands Equestrian Federation “turned to its counterparts in the Pan American Equestrian Confederation for help,” the Cayman Islands organization said in a media release.
Caribbean Equine Relief Fund
Equestrian Canada and U.S. Equestrian quickly joined the Cayman Islanders and the Pan American Equestrian Federation to establish a Caribbean Equine Relief Fund to help horses affected by either Hurricane Irma, Hurricane Maria, or both.
“We intend to take direct action as well as to partner with other animal/equine welfare organizations to deliver the most broad, effective, sustainable and cost-effective response possible within our available funding,” said Mark Samuel, chair of the Fédération Equestre Internationale’s Group IV.
The group includes Canada, the U.S. [with Puerto Rico], Antigua, Barbados, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Haiti, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and the Virgin Islands.
Samuel noted an “urgent need for hay and feed, potable water, vet supplies, veterinary care, fencing and portable stalls” throughout St. Thomas, St. Croix, Puerto Rico, Tortola, and Barbuda.”
Horse aid efforts in Puerto Rico center on the Hipodromo Camarero racetrack, east of Carolina, the easternmost major suburb of San Juan, near the western edge of the El Yunque rainforest, much of which was leveled. The track was hard-hit as well.
“Barns lost roofs”
Elaborated Linda Horn of Caribbean Thoroughbred Aftercare Inc. on September 22, 2017, “Many barns lost roofs. Fencing, structures and trees came down, and the facility was flooded. Right now, the horses cannot leave their stalls because of heavy debris and flooding. They are standing in water and there is little water and hay.”
“We are ensuring that horses are safe, fed, and cared for,” the Camarero staff posted on September 23, 2017.
Shelley Gagnon-Blodgett of Caribbean Thoroughbred Aftercare told Frank Angst of The Bloodhorse that 864 active racing thoroughbreds were housed at the track, plus about 100 lead ponies, 17 retired racehorses, and horses used at the track jockey school. Many horses were injured. Four horses died after Hurricane Maria, but reportedly from founder and colic, rather than by the collapsing buildings and flying debris.
No hay, little water
“The state of things,” Blodgett said from Florida on September 25, 2017, based on updates from horse breeder and Caribbean Thoroughbred Aftercare president Eduardo Maldonado and others, “is basically that they have gotten some water, but it’s not enough. There are small amounts of water coming in and they are rationing it. Each horse is getting like a quarter of a bucket. They were expecting some larger trucks of water,” as of September 24, 2017, “and they had no hay. Even in the days leading up to the storm, getting hay was a problem. The south of Puerto Rico is where most of the hay comes from and they were having a lot of rain and a lot of standing water, so they weren’t even able to get out and bale hay.”
“A lot of things in motion”
Added Angst, “She said Scarlette Gotwals, operations manager of Brook Ledge Horse Transportation’s Horse America, is working to secure a cargo plane to ship in supplies collected by various people in the thoroughbred industry,” and “exploring if they can also bring back some horses. This requires getting USDA clearance to do a required eight-day quarantine.”
“A lot of things are in motion at the track,” updated Bill Finley for Thoroughbred Daily News on September 26, 2017, “but there is a lack of resources and many of owners, trainers and grooms are not able to get to the track. Kelley Stobie,” a Caribbean Thoroughbred Aftercare volunteer in Puerto Rico, “has been there every day taking care of 16 off-the-track thoroughbreds. Yesterday, she watered about 100 racehorses. With 10 horses she got to, she was literally pulling them out; they had literally not been touched since the hurricane. She was able to get them water. Some connections have been hauling in water for their horses since day one and other horses have just been abandoned.”
“Standing in muck”
“Some of the horses are standing in muck up to their ankles,” Blodgett told Finley. They are dehydrated. Some have raced a lot. Those are a little underweight to start with, so they have less reserves to deal with this.”
“One of the main problems there,” Blodgett emphasized, “is that the care-givers have had their lives turned upside down. They may not have a means of getting to the track, or they are busy dealing with their own lives. There are some owners who are just abandoning their horses and saying just let them be. They are going to worry about themselves first. But I don’t think that is the majority.
“These people are going through a crisis,” Blodgett finished. “I think they’ve depleted, their physical, mental and emotional reserves.”