Too many disasters even before Mitch
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 1998:
LA CIEBA, SAN JUAN, MIAMI, NEW
ORLEANS––Tracking a two-year-old female falcon by satellite
transmitter, as she migrated from Wood Buffalo National
Park in central Alberta, Canadian Wildlife Service ornithologist
Geoff Holroyd on October 23-24 watched her gain 300
miles between Haiti and South America, only to be whirled
backward by Hurricane Mitch.
Twelve hours later the exhausted falcon landed back
in Haiti, almost where she’d begun the day’s journey.
She was among the luckier victims of Mitch––and the
winds were the least of the storm, which raged off Central
America for four days, causing unprecedented torrential rain,
mud slides, and flooding. Altogether, Mitch killed an estimated
minimum of 9,000 people in Honduras, 2,000 in Nicaragua,
and hundreds of others in Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico,
and on missing ships. Thousands more were missing.
The toll on animals, both wild and domestic, was
“In La Ceiba, Honduras, alone,” wrote Cindy
Rodrieguez of the Boston Globe, “there are 10,000 steers,
26,000 dairy cows, 3,000 pigs, 32,000 poultry, and 900 horses,
according to the Honduran government. About 70% are
dead; the rest are in danger.”
The World Society for the Protection of Animals on
November 5 sent biologist Renee Owens, veterinarian Alicia
Faggella, and publicist Laura Salter to Honduras to work with
a Honduran Ministry of Agriculture veterinary team.
U.S.-based animal relief groups were already
stretched by the worst hurricane season since 1972. Terri
Crisp, Emergency Animal Rescue Service coordinator for
United Animal Nations, spent much of July in northern Florida,
where she and some of the 2,100 UAN-trained disasater relief
volunteers helped animals displaced by forest fires. In August
they helped clean up after Hurricane Bonnie in the Carolinas
and flooding in Texas. September saw them in Mississippi,
after Hurricane Georges. More flooding returned them to
Texas in October.
Response to Hurricane Bonnie was well-coordinated
by senior personnel who learned the job––or got a refresher
course–– just two years ago during Hurricane Fran.
The New Hanover County animal shelter, in
Wilmington, North Carolina, put down all animals whose
holding time was up, expecting an influx of newly lost strays
and pets whom displaced families couldn’t take with them. At
North Myrtle Beach, North Carolina, Alligator Adventure
evacuated all poisonous snakes, allowing the resident alligators
to bury themselves safely in mud. Waccatee Zoological Farm
owners Kathleen and Archie Futrell led their 400 animals into
underground bunkers. Ripley’s Aquarium made sure all tanks
were freshly recharged, and that the backup generators had
enough fuel to run for at least three days.
More than 500,000 people were temporarily ordered
away from the North and South Carolina coasts, but harm to
animals was light.
Virginia took the brunt. Wildlife Response, in
Chesapeake, and The Wildlife Center, in Waynesboro, reported
themselves inundated with baby squirrels who were blown
from their nests. “A whole generation of squirrels in Virginia
Beach was knocked out,” Wildlife Center director Ed Clark
told Associated Press.
Coming ashore at either end of Puerto Rico,
Hurricane Georges reportedly tore much of the roof off the
PARE shelter in Caguas, then removed the roof of the Villa
Michelle shelter overlooking Mayaguez.
At Caguas, PARE Este volunteer Heidi Lepak told
ANIMAL PEOPLE, “All the animals were unharmed,
although the dogs got very wet” before repairs were made.
Veterinary services were disrupted throughout eastern Puerto
Rico, Lepak said, because electricity, running water, and
telephones were off in many areas for more than a month.
Lepak also claimed there was a surge of animal abandonment at
Los Machos Beach, where PARE Este founders Alfredo and
Sally Figueroa have long fed the beach dogs.
“Local fishers and others have told PARE that they
have seen vehicles dropping off many animals at a time,”
Florida took the next hit, but the many Florida zoos
and wildlife centers had ample warning. The Miami Metrozoo
claimed to be especially well-prepared, after losing five mammals
and 300 birds while suffering $15 million in property
damage during Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Part of the
Metrozoo plan, however, called for evacuating animals to
Busch Gardens in Tampa and Lion Country Safari, in West
Palm Beach. That was deferred, as those zoos were also in
Hurricane Georges’ expected path.
As it happened, Hurricane Georges only sideswiped
the Florida Keys before spinning west. The Turtle Hospital in
Marathon and the Humane Animal Care Coalition, handling
animal control for the Upper Keys, reportedly fared well, but
at least eight rhesus macaques were killed at the Charles River
Laboratories facility on Lois Key, where all but two cages
were smashed, releasing about 150 of the estimated 235 monkeys
who were kept there. The 800 monkeys on Raccoon Key
were reportedly unharmed.
The Lois Key colony was to be relocated as soon as
possible to a site in Homestead, and the Florida Game and
Fresh Water Fish Commission was expected to push for expedited
removal of the Raccoon Key colony as well. Both
colonies were already due for removal by the end of 1999.
Mud inundated the already struggling coral reefs of
the Lower Keys and Dry Tortugas. Flocks of banana finches
migrating to Cuba and the Yucatan paused in Key West, while
descendants of the pigeons for whom tiny Pigeon Key was
named by Spanish explorers fled to parts unknown. They
began straggling back about two weeks later, Pigeon Key
Foundation executive director Dave Whitney said.
The big blows struck the western end of the Florida
panhandle, Mississippi and Louisiana. The AHA dispatched
the Animal Planet rescue van to Milton, Florida, where as
many as 40 cattle drowned.
The Louisiana SPCA, fearing flooding might inundate
its old waterfront shelter, hauled all 200 animals it had on
hand to other shelters and veterinary clinics in Baton Rouge and
Jackson, Mississippi, where temporary shelter was arranged
by the Mississippi Animal Rescue League. A week later, the
animals who hadn’t been adopted in the interim were hauled
back. The operation cost an estimated $25,000.
Jackson, in central Mississipi, was high and dry, but
not so Jackson County, along the coast. The UAN-EARS team
joined the National Guard in patrolling neighborhoods where as
many as 1,000 homes were flooded. The Jackson County
Animal Shelter took in about 50 animals displaced by
Hurricane Georges, while Houston SPCA operations director
Dave Garcia and four of his staff––three of them
volunteers––evacuated 64 homeless dogs and 32 cats from
coastal Mississippi in a 27-foot livestock van.
An estimated 30 alligators escaped from the Gulf
Coast Gator Ranch east of Pascagoula, staff told Allen G.
Breed of Associated Press. Fort Lake/Franklin Creed
Volunteer Fire Department chief Kevin Stork skeptically noted
that the ranch advertises having “thousands of gators at the Gulf
Coast’s oldest farm.”
ANIMAL PEOPLE received no word of harm to the
Mississippi National Sandhill Crane Refuge, in western
Jackson County, but the Breton National Wildlife Refuge, off
New Orleans, now exists mainly on maps. Already damaged
by Hurricane Frances in September, the Chandeleur Islands
virtually vanished, and the shoal grass beds that feed about
20,000 redheaded ducks each winter were buried in silt. Breton
Island, formerly 25 miles long, was cut into more than 100
smaller islands. A lighthouse that was 3,500 feet from the
northern end was left 1,500 feet from the nearest shore.
The Gosier Island brown pelican rookery disappeared.
Pelicans believed to have come from the rookery
turned up near Pensacola, Florida.
The Pass a’Loutre State Wildlife Management Area
sustained about $1.3 million in damage to buildings and equipment.
Damage at the Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge and Game
Preserve was put at $1 million.
As the waters receded, swarms of mosquitoes were
blamed for killing livestock—chiefly by keeping the weakened
animals moving until they could move no longer.
UAN-EARS in late August helped the Laredo Animal
Protective Society with about 220 animals who were relocated
from a public shelter near the overflowing Rio Grande.
At the northern end of the state, however, and in
adjacent parts of Oklahoma, the problem was drought, leading
to wind-driven grass and timber fires.
Near Davis, Oklahoma, 40-to-50-foot flames overran
the tiny Creatures Great and Small exotic cat sanctuary.
Given 10 minutes warning by firefighters, property owner John
Rohloff, 45, saved four small cats, aided by neighbors Tracy
and Shannon Beasley, Richard Carter, and Robby Barber, but
lost a Siberian/Bengal hybrid tiger, a two-year-old lion, a oneyear-old
lioness, and a 10-month-old puma––along with his
trailer home––and reported escaped with his own life only by
diving into a muckhole, breathing from an air pocket under a
rock ledge as cedar trees exploded overhead.
As of October 1, 9,228 reported wildfires had burned
383,839 acres in Texas, razing food supplies for many small
mammals and birds, but also clearing brush to start new grasslands––whenever
some rain fell.
But the rain fell mainly in south-central Texas.
Floods killed at least 17 people, and swept as many as 50,000
cattle down the Guadalupe, San Marcos, and Colorado rivers,
along with balls of fire ants. Most of the cattle survived.
About a third, however, were not branded. Roundup crews
had no idea whose they were.
In Victoria, 14 snakes drowned at the Texas Zoo and
four more disappeared before the remaining 257 animals could
be evacuated. The Victoria Animal Shelter also had to evacuate,
with help from the Six Flags Humane Society, which
housed the displaced animals in ahastily converted warehouse.
As of early November, there was still little sign of
anything returning to normal.