Harvey the Wallbanger busts some animals out of confinement, traps others in need of rescue
(See also Hurricane Harvey: who is doing what for animals?, Brian Davies puts $49,562 toward Harvey animal rescue, challenges others to match it and Which Hurricane Harvey animal relief charity took the Labor Day weekend off? More updates will follow as quickly as possible.)
HOUSTON, Texas––Despite up to four feet of water on city streets impeding movement by any animal or machine incapable of swimming or flying, and conditions hazardous to swimming and flying creatures as well, most Houston animal care and rescue facilities reported in the wake of Hurricane-turned-tropical-storm Harvey that as of evening on August 29, 2017 they had kept their animals safe through the first part of the disaster.
With the worst of Harvey moving eastward, over Beaumont, with the Louisiana cities of Lake Charles, Alexandria, Lafayette, Baton Rouge and New Orleans next in harm’s way over the coming week, Louisiana animal care organizations braced for what might be their biggest weather challenge since Hurricane Katrina in 2005––or may be just heavy rains as Harvey blows out.
Animal charities ask “What next?”
Beleaguered Texas animal care counterparts began looking ahead.
Many will be providing weeks and even months of aftercare to rescued animals and animals held for people who have lost their homes.
Some organizations must repair or replace damaged facilities.
Most will have to stretch donations farther than ever, with their local donors also suffering from storm damage and often at least temporary loss of employment from disrupted businesses.
Some animal charities in the disaster zone may receive grants from some of the big national and international organizations whose first visible response to Harvey was posting fundraising social media pages. Many will not.
And all, including the big national and international organizations, will suffer from diversions of funding by a plethora of upstart and fly-by-night “rescues” that set up fundraising links with stolen photos, usually no verifiable nonprofit status, and no verifiable on-the-ground connections to the disaster area, now stretching the length of the Texas coast, from Corpus Christi to southern Louisiana.
Be generous, but not hasty––and verify!
ANIMALS 24-7 urges would-be donors who want to help the animals harmed by Hurricane Harvey to be generous, but not hasty. Verify before sending money anywhere that the recipient organizations are where they say they are, doing what they say they are doing, participating with an organization that has Federal Emergency Management Agency certification if they claim to have gone to the scene from elsewhere.
Bear in mind that many of the hardest-hit animal charities may not be able to post particulars of their work and needs until the water recedes and full electronic communications are restored.
Houston floods for third year in a row
In many respects Hurricane-turned-tropical-storm Harvey could probably not have hit a better prepared region.
“This is the third straight year that Houston has endured a devastating, once-in-a-lifetime flood,” summarized Slate Moneybox section reporter Henry Grabar. “There were the Memorial Day floods in 2015 and the Tax Day floods in 2016. Together the storms killed 16 people and caused more than $1 billion in damage. Houston has now been hit with six ‘hundred-year storms’ since 1989,” Grabar reminded.
While Houston absorbed “the greatest amount of rain recorded from a single tropical storm or hurricane in the continental United States,” as Grabar mentioned, the 30 reported human deaths through August 29, 2017 and 30,000 people in need of shelter, according to FEMA, were magnitudes of order lower than the 1,833 deaths attributed to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which displaced more than a million people for at least a few days.
Opossums, squirrels, & pigs
Among the animal emblems of Harvey broadcast by mass media were an opossum spotted “trembling and exhausted” on a Houston bridge by Brian Curtis of KXAS/NBC Dallas and a bevy of rescued squirrels huddling at Austin Wildlife Rescue on August 27, 2017.
Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation, of Bourne, the oldest and largest sanctuary in the Texas hill country, reported receiving more than “150 displaced, injured and orphaned wildlife, mainly nestling doves and songbirds and dozens of neonate squirrels, brought to us from as far away as Houston, Rockport, Corpus Christi and other cities and towns along the Texas Gulf Coast. We expect their numbers to continue to grow, as many more wild animals are in need of rescue from the rising floodwaters,” Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation said.
Wild pigs, normally wary of humans and inclined to be nocturnal, were videotaped running through yards in The Woodlands, a planned community north of Houston, south of Conroe.
Ocelots, whooping cranes, & prairie chickens
“If Harvey had occurred 100 miles south, it could have had a devastating effect on the small [Texas] ocelot population. If it had occurred 20 miles north and two months later, it could have been disastrous for whooping cranes,” Texas A&M University Animal, Rangeland and Wildlife Sciences professor Mike Tewes told Karin Brulliard of the Washington Post.
Wrote Brulliard, “One species that might yet be devastated by the flooding, according to Tewes, is the Attwater’s prairie chicken,” a politically contentious endangered grouse species that “lives in coastal Texas and happens to be threatened by the flood-floating red imported fire ants that eat insects on which the chickens also feed. Only about 100 of the birds remain in the wild, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”
Fire ants & alligators
Red fire ants, native to South America but common in Texas since arriving with cargo ships and aircraft during World War II, tend to cling together, forming rafts, when flooded out of the burrows. Floating red fire ant rafts have been photographed throughout the Texas disaster area.
While vastly more abundant and arguably more deadly to humans and animals encountering them than American alligators, alligators also became a Harvey hazard, as did water moccasins and other venomous snakes.
Summarized Brulliard, “The Houston metropolitan area is home to thousands of American alligators who reside in hundreds of miles of streams and bayous; more than 20 species of snakes, five of them venomous; and plenty of deer, raccoons and other critters. Alligators don’t do well in the colder, fast-moving rainwater that is rushing through the bayous, so those who are able will migrate inland.”
Coyotes & vultures
“We’re hearing reports of 8-foot alligators in the front yard,” Texas Parks & Wildlife biologist Kelly Norrid told Brulliard. “But that’s not really unusual in southeast Texas.”
The largest alligators actually removed from flooded neighborhoods in the Houston suburbs of Meyerland and Fort Bend County by the alligator relocation company Gator Squad were only three to five feet long, company spokesperson Chris Stephens told Brulliard.
Norrid anticipated that drowned deer and other wildlife would attract hordes of flies.
“But hopefully the rest of nature will take its course and help clean the mess up: coyotes and vultures, etcetera,” Norrid told Brulliard.
Bats under bridges
“His main wildlife concern,” Brulliard finished, “is for Houston’s Mexican free-tailed bats, fast little animals that live in the narrow crevices of more than 30 bridges in the city,” especially the Waugh Bridge in central Houston. As many as 300,000 bats per night fly from under the bridge.
“We are gathering supplies now to make the 450-mile trip in order to rescue as many bats as possible,” posted Bat World Sanctuary, of Weatherford, Texas at midday on August 29, 2017. “We have a boat, life jackets, and three volunteers who will collect the bats from the water, as well as parking garages and other places where the bats are hanging, wet and starving.”
Bat World Sanctuary later confirmed that the team had reached Houston.
Local bat rescuers Scott and KirstiAnn Clifford, Alice Plunkett, and Jacob Calle, along with other local volunteers, meanwhile rescued as many of the Waugh Bridge bats as they could get to by leaning over the railing with nets.
“We may not have saved the entire colony, but we saved these individuals along with many many many many more,” Calle posted.
The major potential alligator crisis appeared to be developing at the Gator Country alligator rescue facility and theme park in Beaumont, KDFM-TV of Beaumont reported. Accumulating floodwater had raised the ponds at the 15-acre facility to the point that some of the smaller resident gators were apparently able to breach the fences and escape.
Since alligators are common in the region, the escapes were not considered particularly problematic.
“The park is also home to an assortment of other reptiles — including crocodiles and venomous snakes — all of whom have already been safely removed to higher ground,” KFDM reported. “Also moved were Big Al and Big Tex, “both measuring more than 13 feet long, and the biggest gators in captivity in Texas.”
Avoiding becoming up to their asses in alligators, but keeping busy nonetheless, Beaumont Animal Services reported “No water anywhere close to the shelter.” Instead, Beaumont Animal Services staff “set up with the Red Cross at the Beaumont Civic Center” to accommodate the pets of displaced people and appealed for donations of supplies.
Louisiana SPCA prepares for whatever
“While Tropical Storm Harvey still rages on in Texas and Louisiana, the Louisiana SPCA is coordinating transports across the state to other parts of the country to prepare for intake” of additional animals left homeless by Harvey, posted Louisiana SPCA chief executive Ana Zorilla. “We’re not only transporting animals from our facility, but animals from all over southeast Louisiana. So far we have been able to successfully transport about 100 animals from the Louisiana SPCA and St. Landry Parish Animal Shelter to Atlanta and the Greater Birmingham Humane Society,” Zorilla said.
“Another transport is currently being arranged with the Humane Society of the United States for Thursday, August 31,” Zorilla added. “This transport will be done via airplane and will include about 100 animals from the Louisiana SPCA, Plaquemines Animal Welfare Society, St. Bernard Animal Shelter and Companion Animal Alliance in Baton Rouge.
“In addition,” Zorilla said, “the Louisiana SPCA is working with the local rescue group Zeus’ Place, to vet animals they took in from St. Landry Parish to coordinate their transport out of state.”
Meanwhile, in preparation for Harvey in case the storm reaches New Orleans, Zorilla mentioned, “The Louisiana SPCA has staff stationed at the City Emergency Operation Center around the clock. We dropped off 50 crates to fire stations around New Orleans,” in anticipation of the possible worst.
Acadiana Animal Aid
Undertaking a similar effort, Acadiana Animal Aid, of Lafayette, Lousiana, “in partnership with Wings of Rescue, Labradors & Friends, the Rancho Coastal Humane Society, and San Diego Humane Society saved 107 lives,” Acadiana Animal Aid reported via Facebook.
These were “dogs and cats who were already in surrounding Louisiana parish shelters,” Acadiana Animal Aid explained. “Acadiana Animal Aid plans to do this at least two more times, and maybe even more,” depending on the extent of evacuation necessary.
Marine animal rescue
Back in the Coastal Bend region, the first part of Texas inundated by Harvey, the Texas Sealife Center in Corpus Christi “fared well, as did all our animals,” staff posted to Facebook. “Unfortunately, our sister facility, the University of Texas Marine Sciences Institute Animal Rehabilitation Keep (UTMSI-ARK),” 45 minutes’ drive to the east under normal conditions, past Padre Island National Seashore, “did not fare as well.”
The Texas Sealife Center took in more than 50 Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles from UTMSI-ARK, and more than 40 birds.
UTMSI-ARK “rehabilitates marine turtles and marine birds from the coastal zone of Mustang Island and St. Joseph Island,” according to the organization’s web site. “Consultative and collaborative services are available to marine wildlife rehabilitation facilities and staff at all other locations and regions. The ARK is not open to the public.”
Rockport Harbor Aquarium collapsed
Open to the public, however, free of charge, until it collapsed under a battering from Harvey, was the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department – Rockport Marine Lab Aquarium at Rockport Harbor. Opened in 1947, the aquarium was expanded in 1960, closed in 1985 “due to lack of funding to support building structure reinforcement,” the aquarium web page recounts, and then reopened in July 2007 “through the work of various community volunteers, Texas Parks & Wildlife tank donations, and city and county support.”
Reported KVUE-TV of Austin, “Staff members released many of the fish from the aquarium ahead of the storm and Marley, the aquarium’s beloved honeycomb moray eel, was evacuated to the Texas State Aquarium.”
(Further updates from dozens of other animal care organizations will be posted as rapidly as ANIMALS 24-7 can verify and distill the information.)