Many still need help
HOUSTON, Texas––How have horses, cattle, and animals kept in laboratories and zoos fared through Hurricane Harvey and aftermath?
Soggy doggies and cats took the media spotlight during the first week of the Harvey crisis, but animals of every species shared the impact of the record deluge.
(See also 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?
Texas A&M VET works along the coast
“As the flood waters from Harvey have begun to recede, the animal situation is becoming clearer,” the Texas A&M Veterinary Emergency Team (VET) posted early on September 1, 2017.
“The VET is sending teams to multiple locations along the Texas coast,” the team said, “in Rockport, Brazoria County, and Chambers County. In Katy County, we will continue to support Federal Emergency Management Agency’s multi-state task force search-and-rescue operations, as needed. We will also continue our work in Fort Bend County with the Texas Task Force search-and-rescue canines and providing medical support for other animals.”
Chickens, rats, mice & fish
The most numerous “other animals” in the total region hit by Harvey, from Corpus Christi east along the Texas coast and then up the Ohio River valley and on out to the Atlantic Ocean over Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware, are chickens.
But where the deepest water accumulated, doing the most damage, the most numerous “other animals” are either cattle or rodents in laboratories.
Since the numbers of rats, mice, birds, and fish used by laboratories are not tabulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, having been Congressionally exempted from the Animal Welfare Act definition of “animal,” the total population of animals in laboratories in Harvey’s path remains anyone’s guess.
1.2 million cattle & how many pigs?
But more than 1.2 million cattle are raised for slaughter in the 54 Texas counties declared to be disaster areas, reported Cattle Network digital producer Sara Brown.
“That’s 27% of the state’s cow herd,” Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service livestock economist David Anderson told Brown.
Tens of thousands of dairy cattle and pigs have also been affected, but there is as yet no quantification available of casualties.
Thousands of pigs and piglets are, however, believed to have drowned in farrowing pens, while countless others suffer from broken water lines obliging them to drink polluted floodwater, disruptions in feeding, and exhaustion from having had to stand without respite for days to avoid drowning.
“Chance Ward and his son Rowdy, 17, became internet sensations as a video showing the rescue of a penned-up horse neck-deep in water reached 10 million views since it was posted to his Facebook page on Monday,” observed Fox News reporter Tori Richards.
But while Richards hailed “Cowboys [who] rescued hundreds of drowning horses and cattle,” Texas Animal Health Commission spokesperson Thomas Swafford told Pat Raia of The Horse that, “It remains unclear exactly how many horses have been either rescued or claimed by the storm.”
Said Swafford, “We’re still conducting animal assessments.”
“This cannot get worse”
“We have 150 horses that are on high ground, but we have not even been able to feed them because our hay supply is two miles away and the roads are flooded and closed,” Habitat for Horses founder Jerry Finch told Raia.
“This cannot get any worse,” Finch added.
Days End Farm Horse Rescue of Maryland, involved in dozens of disaster relief efforts since 1992, was reportedly sending personnel to Texas over the Labor Day weekend to work with the American SPCA team already in the Galveston area.
Sam Houston Race Park
Wrote veteran horseracing writer Ray Paulick of The Paulick Report, in a roundup of Harvey news from a variety of other industry contacts and sources, “Sam Houston Race Park has opened its barn area and is accepting horses displaced by the flooding and storm damage caused by Hurricane Harvey. The Blood-Horse reports that the racetrack, which is located northwest of downtown Houston, has not sustained any major damage or flooding. There were no horses on the grounds when the storm hit since there was no live racing.
“The track is sheltering horses for free. According to track officials, about 100 horses that have arrived there.”
Cautioned track official Roland Tamez, “These stalls do not have gates, so horse owners need to provide a gate or stall webbing, hay, feed, bedding, tubs, and buckets. The track is providing water.”
The U.S. Equestrian Foundation Disaster Relief Fund had raised more than $150,000 in four days to help the horse victims of Harvey, Paulick noted.
Continued Paulick, “Because of the deluge of rain, Kentucky Downs,” in Franklin, Kentucky, “has rescheduled” an opening card originally set for September 2, “to September 6. The fields for the 10-race all-grass card will remain the same, with no redrawing of entries or post positions.
“Kentucky Downs,” Paulick added, “offers the richest average daily purses in North America at a $1.7 million a day, including purse enhancements for Kentucky-bred horses.
“The track leads the nation in average field size,” Paulick said, “with almost 11 horses per race, and has been ranked No. 1 for three years straight by the Horseplayers Association of North America.”
Walking horse show mired
From Shelbyville, Tennessee, BillyGoBoy blogger and horse advocate Clant Seay reported that the annual “National Celebration” walking horse show had experienced “the worst attendance” in the 47 years it has been held.
The Celebration in specific, and walking horse shows generally, have been rocked by a series of scandals in recent years involving breeders and exhibitors deliberately soring horses’ hooves to make them step higher.
The walking horse industry responded in 2016 with lawsuits that became the pretext for the Donald Trump administration to take down USDA Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service web sites that formerly provided access to Horse Protection Act and Animal Welfare Act enforcement data. The data had often fueled public concern about horse soring.
(See also Is Protect the Harvest behind USDA purge of Animal Welfare Act data?)
But anxiety as Harvey approached was probably the largest factor in the depressed Celebration.
Biomedical research labs fortified after 2001
“Most of the biomedical research facilities in Houston, including those at Rice University, the MD Anderson Cancer Center, and the University of Texas Health Science Center, installed special doors and floodgates to hold back storm waters after Hurricane Allison” in 2001, reported Emma Harris of Nature.
Allison, elaborated Kelly Servick of Science News, “breached aging dikes at the Texas Medical Center and flooded hospital basements, killing thousands of research rodents.”
“Behemoth complex” lost none
The Texas Medical Center, Servick explained, is “the behemoth complex of hospitals and medical research labs that includes the Baylor College of Medicine, the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, and the Texas A&M Health Sciences Center. The complex now has a system of flood doors that sealed off basements and first floor facilities as water levels rose. A spokesperson for Baylor described a system of gates and concrete walls rising 15 meters above sea level.”
The precautions worked.
“Not a single animal was hurt or killed or even seemed to be bothered by the storm,” University of Texas Health Science Center animal facilities director Mary Robinson, DVM, told Science News reporter Carrie Arnold.
Baby monkeys had milk rationed
By contrast, wrote Nature reporter Harris, “The University of Houston does not have special flood infrastructure. So the institution has been dealing with flooded basement labs, and has struggled to keep animals dry and fed. Forty baby rhesus monkeys had their formula milk rationed,” University of Houston vice-president for research and technology transfer Amr Elnashai told Harris.
“A few had to be weaned a week early,” Harris noted.
Gator Country & Rockport Harbor Aquarium
Intensive publicity accompanied the rumored escape of an unknown number of alligators from the Gator Country visitor attraction in Beaumont, near the Louisiana border. The Gator Country management at first appeared to confirm the escapes of some of the smaller resident alligators, but later denied losing any.
The Rockport Harbor Aquarium, a facility whose biggest animal was a moray eel, collapsed completely. The moray eel, however, was successfully evacuated.
The Texas Zoo flooded
But the animal exhibition facility under the most stress from Harvey may have been the Texas Zoo, in Victoria, hub of an inland metropolitan area of about 111,000 people, located more-or-less in the middle of a triangle formed by Corpus Christi, San Antonio, and Houston.
The Texas Zoo, sixty years old this year, was relocated to an island in the Guadalupe River in 1962 and expanded to the present size, housing about 200 animals altogether. The Texas Zoo previously flooded in 1998, recalled Victoria Advocate reporter Amber Aldaco.
“Almost all of the animals survived,” zoo board president Jimmy Zaplac told Aldaco, crediting the efforts of animal curator Michael Magaw, his wife Teresa, and workers Cornelius “Cash” Clark and Jesse Salinas.
Staff camped on zoo roof
All remained with the animals, camping on the office roof on August 25, 2017 as the river overflowed, cutting off access to either shore.
“They kept caring for and feeding the animals. Before the storm hit, they had moved all of the animals to their night houses, which are higher than the exhibits,” Aldaco wrote.
Arriving the next morning to help, “Crews from the San Antonio Zoo and SeaWorld San Antonio were surprised by the level of water,” Aldaco continued.
Rescuers “scratched their heads”
“The first crew of more than 10 stood at the edge of the brown floodwaters, watching as water continued to stream through the park. They scratched their heads. By noon, Zaplac had arranged to get an airboat from his father and led the expedition through the floodwaters to start the rescue mission. A crew of six from the Fort Worth Zoo also brought a boat,” plus “tools to help clean the zoo, which looked devastated with smashed exhibits, downed trees and debris.”
The San Antonio Zoo, SeaWorld San Antonio, and Fort Worth Zoo teams helped to evacuate the smaller Texas Zoo animals, including birds, ocelots and a goat named Oreo, Aldaco reported, while “The larger animals, including their lions, bears and tiger, are safe and will remain at the zoo until the water recedes.”
Downtown Aquarium & Houston Zoo
SeaWorld San Antonio and the San Antonio Zoo also sent teams to help the Downtown Aquarium in Houston care for their animals during several days of recovery from flooding. The Downtown Aquarium celebrated reopening by hosting a meal for about 900 relief workers helping in the surrounding city blocks.
Posted Houston Zoo chief executive Lee Ehmke to Facebook, “I am grateful to report that our zoo is still an island of relative normalcy in an ocean of crisis, with my deepest gratitude going to my fellow ride-out crew members. Throughout the storm, the animals at the Houston Zoo were safe and secure in their barns and night houses and cared for by a dedicated crew of team members who stayed at the zoo for the duration.”
Minor flooding & tree damage
The Houston Zoo “sustained minor storm-related flooding and downed tree limbs” Ehmke added, “but no significant damage. However, many of the zoo’s team members were affected by this catastrophe. We have launched an employee relief fund to help our team members who need assistance.”
The Houston Zoo kept busy mostly attending the resident animals, but also “answered the call to receive a green sea turtle who had been rescued by a resident in Sharpstown, and handed over to the firefighters at Houston Fire Station 51,” Ehmke said.
The Dallas Zoo and San Antonio offered free admission for several days to displaced families housed in their communities.
“We hope a visit to the zoo might help ease the pain and bring a smile to your face, even if for just a few hours,” the Dallas Zoo said in announcing the offer, accepted by more than 700 people.
Sanctuaries & snakes
The Primarily Primates sanctuary just north of San Antonio, several times damaged by previous flooding, this time “was left unharmed and relatively dry,” staff posted to Facebook. “We had rain storms, but no flooding. We’re back to normal enrichment activities (like pineapple top foraging) and thank everyone who checked up on us,” the post said.
The National AntiVivisection Society Sanctuary Fund pledged “emergency assistance to rescue organizations, shelters and sanctuaries for help rebuilding and restoring” damaged facilities, but as of September 2, 2017 had not yet announced any specific commitments.
Offered the Texas Reptile Zoo in Bastrop, “We realize the flooding waters may have brought some snakes into your homes so if you are scared and need them relocated, please email us at [email protected] and TRZ will come help you out,” at least in nearby areas.