Sanctuaries, wildlife feel the heat from global warming
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 2002:
Already afflicted by economic drought pushing more than 100
nonprofit animal shelters and sanctuaries into dissolution, the
animal care community was hit during summer 2002 by fires, floods,
and drought too.
Disaster often overtook refuges and sanctuaries with unimagined speed.
Darlene Kobobel, 40, was just barely able to move 12 wolves
and wolf hybrids on short notice from her 8.5-acre Wolf Rescue Center
in Lake George, Colorado, in June, Baltimore Sun correspondent
Stephen Kiehl wrote. Housing the animals temporarily in a barn near
Colorado Springs, Kobobel fed them meat from elk and deer caught by
“Around the perimeter of the fire, all they have found are
carcasses,” mostly of fawns, Wild Forever Foundation president
Linda Cope told Kiehl.
Six weeks later, on July 30, California Wolf Center
executive director Patrick Valentino had no chance to relocate the 31
Mexican gray wolves his center keeps in connection with the federal
reintroduction program in Arizona and New Mexico. A brushfire hit
the 50-acre site near Julian, California, almost without warning,
on the way to destroying five homes, a summer cabin, and two
“Firefighters, pilots performing aerial drops, and 12
dedicated volunteers and staff stood between the fire and wolf
enclosure, risking their lives literally to the last second to save
the wolves,” Valentino said. “The fire moved through our facility
in only a few minutes. Flames 100 feet high hit an area that Female
434 always used when she was nervous. She must have stayed there as
the fire hit. She may have attracted the attention of three pups who
died with her. Male 193 stayed away from the fire in the same
enclosure, and had three pups with him.”
Valentino noted that because he and his staff had foreseen
that “a fire rushing up a hill will leave little time for an orderly
evacuation, our fire defense system was effective in saving 27
In the path of a wildfire in early August, Bonnie and Bob
Ringo, and their daughter Abijah Bauer, 19, of the Wildland
Endangered Animal Sanctuary near Cave Junction, Oregon, prepared to
evacuate 14 lions, leopards, and tigers–but Caesar, an African
lion, and Shacka, a white tiger, refused to enter their traveling
That obliged the Ringos and Bauer to plan to send the other
animals away, leave Caesar and Shacka, and stay with them.
“We have a pump hooked to the cats’ pool, and we won’t
leave. We’ll do whatever it takes to protect our animals,” Bauer
Fortunately the 164,000-acre fire turned away, but the big
cats still suffered for days from breathing smoke and ingesting ashes
that settled over their food and water.
At the opposite extreme of conditions, late June flashfloods
hit four major sanctuaries near San Antonio, Texas.
Animal Sanctuary of the U.S. founder Carol Asvestas told
Herminio J. Rodrieguez of the San Antonio Express-News that at one
point, “All I could see were heads of cougars and heads of
tigers–animals just swimming to stay above water. This was the only
time I ever panicked.”
Fortunately, the high water subsided within 90 minutes,
leaving just a huge mess and many stressed animals to contend with.
Wild Animal Orphanage reportedly had two big cats escape from
their cages due to flashflood damage, but soon recaptured both
animals on the sanctuary grounds.
Primarily Primates, hit by flashfloods twice before, had
relatively light damage and no escapes. Animals who remembered the
past torrents seemed to regard this one as “part of the
entertainment,” Primarily Primates president Wally Swett said.
Located high on a hillside, Primarily Primates would be
vulnerable to a conventional rising-water flood only if half of Texas
slipped beneath the Gulf of Mexico. The recurring flashfloods result
from torrential rain falling even higher on the hill.
Animal Protection Institute executive director Alan Berger
reportedly said at the time that the Texas Snow Monkey Sanctuary
avoided major damage, but former sanctuary director Lou Griffin
believes the flooding led to the escapes of many macaques seen
recently on neighboring ranches. (See page 12.)
Always dry, the Four Corners region where Arizona, New
Mexico, Colorado, and Utah meet has for more than a year received
barely half as much rain as usual. Since the end of the 2001-2002
snow season, the entire south-central Rocky Mountain region has
received only slightly more than half the rain it normally gets.
Central California, Oregon, Nevada, Washington, south Texas, and
Montana just had an abnormally dry summer.
This exacerbated all of the usual conflicts between human
water-users and the needs of wildlife. Suburban residents reported
record numbers of home-and-yard incursions by hungry bears, deer,
raccoons, pumas, and coyotes coming down out of dry hills to the
lands of lawn sprinklers and swimming pools.
The real flashpoint issues, however, involved endangered
species whose water needs sometimes take precedence–by law and court
decision–over human economic interests. Conflicts involving the
endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow, for example, were in court
almost every working day of September.
Similar battles over allocations of water needed to save
crops, salmon runs, and an endangered sucker fish led to the worst
salmon kill in Pacific Northwest history along a 33-mile stretch of
the Klamath River of northern California. At least 30,000 salmon
trying to swim upstream to spawn were trapped in overheated shallow
pools and suffocated between September 18 and October 1.
The stench was likely to haunt courtrooms and Congress for years.
Wild horse stories
Wild horse adoption groups working with the Bureau of Land
Management and State of Nevada meanwhile split over whether mustang
removals from the dryest parts of their habitat were necessary. Some
opponents of escalated roundups hinted to ANIMAL PEOPLE in August
that rescuers taking unusually large numbers of horses might be
illegally selling them to slaughter. ANIMAL PEOPLE found, however,
that the groups taking the most horses were among the oldest and
best-respected in the field, or were working closely with the older
groups. No horses were missing, The major destinations of the
horses were sanctuaries and private land in California and Montana,
far from any horse slaughterhouses.
The two biggest horse slaughterhouses in the U.S., Beltex of
Fort Worth and Dallas Crown of Kaufman, are in central Texas.
Beltex has 90 workers, killed 27,000 horses in 2001, and had sales
of $30 million. Dallas Crown has 40 workers, killed 13,000 horses,
and had sales of $9 million.
Their continued operation was jeopardized by an August 7
opinion by Texas Attorney General John Coryn that a 1949 state law
forbidding the killing and export of horses for human consumption is
still in effect.
Tarrant and Kaufman counties promptly moved to close Beltex
and Dallas Crown, whose odors and emissions are unpopular with
neighbors. Beltex and Dallas Crown in turn sued the counties on
September 25 for allegedly illegally attempting to regulate
international trade, and on October 5 sought an injunction against
any closure orders.
The U.S. climatic disturbances have parallels abroad. While
U.S. President George W. Bush continues to dismiss global warming as
an unproved theory, there is little doubt among scientists studying
the impacts that many of the dire prophecies of the 1980s about the
effects of global warming were on the mark.
One such prophecy was that a dryer Amazon rainforest would
become a tinderbox. This year Amazon basin farmers started more
than 60,000 fires that raced out of control, “claiming thousands of
acres of savanna and pasture, and even burning usually humid
wetlands in the Brazilian midwest,” reported Michael Astor of
One fire razed about 2,800 acres of the 13,600-acre Poco das
Antas Biological Reserve. Sixty miles north of Rio de Janeiro, Poco
das Antas is one of the two Atlantic coastal rainforests which still
have golden lion tamarin monkeys. Although golden lion tamarins
breed readily in zoos, and have been reintroduced to the wild with
moderate success, Astor noted, “The [wild] tamarin population must
double over the next 25 years or risk extinction from inbreeding. To
sustain a larger population, the tamarins need some 62,000 acres of
forest, about twice as much as they now have, according to Golden
Lion Tamarin Association director Denise Rambaldi.”
Another global warming gloom-and-doom scenario was that
drought would drive desperate farmers and herders off of their own
overgrazed, overtilled, and desertified land, and into wildlife
That too is happening. In India, for example, a late
August fire set by someone illegally occupying the Kalakkad
Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve razed 600 square miles of the Western Ghat
mountains, and an estimated 1,000 herders drove about 10,000
starving and thirsty cattle into the Ranthambore tiger reserve in
western Rajasthan. Poachers using the unusually heavy human presence
to cover their movements allegedly killed a Ranthambore tigress circa
September 18. Only one of her two cubs was found by investigators.
Regional drought also intensified the perennially violent
conflict between Australian sheep ranchers and wildlife. South
Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service regional investigator
Tim Fraser warned that because of draught, “We’re going to have a
really big crash in kangaroo and emu numbers.” Armed stockmen tried
to speed up the process.
“More than a million commercial tags have been allocated to
kangaroo shooters,” the Melbourne Age reported on August 20. “These
kangaroos are shot for their meat and skins. More than 100,000 have
been shot under ‘cull and lay’ programs. Most are left to rot.”
The Cattle Council of Australia blamed job losses on
kangaroos. Acting Prime Minister John Anderson in a September 24
radio interview asserted that kangaroos “brought the drought on
several months ahead of when it would otherwise have gotten serious,”
without explaining how they did it.
South Australian farmers were issued permits, on complaint,
to shoot emus who allegedly damaged field crops. That did not
satisfy the South Australian Farmers Feder-ation, however, whose
members in August asked the National Parks and Wildlife Depart-ment
to undertake a mass cull. NPWD regional manager Brenton Arnold
rejected mass culling on August 28. “It is worth noting,” Arnold
said, “that the population of emus has actually gone down statewide
in the last year.”
There seemed to be some risk that cockatoos–already targeted
by many farmers as a nuisance species–would also come under
intensifying attack, after flocks fled the dry countryside in August
to sojourn in the Sydney area, often to the annoyance of residents
whose property they chose to squawk and defecate on.
Still another global warming prophecy was that while dry
regions would become dryer, some wet regions would get wetter. That
may have happened to parts of Thailand, where September flooding
killed 56 people, dislocating 1.5 million.
On October 2 the Forest Industry Organization Elephant Rescue
Unit moved the 50 elephants of the Ayutthaya Elephant Palace and
Royal Kraal to dry land belonging to the national Fine Arts
“The elephants have stood in water for almost 20 days,”
Elephant Palace director Sompast Meepan told Kultida Samabuddhi of
the Bangkok Post. “They are very weak from lack of sleep because
their mahouts have been moving them from place to place in search of
dry ground. They also have diet problems because they won’t eat wet
Sompast Meepan said that the Elephant Palace had never
flooded before, and pledged to build a levee to ensure that it would
not flood again. That could be termed giving a dam for the plight of