Wildlife Rehabilitators: The Hidden Heroes of Hurricane Season
By Meredith Brown
Thousands of people affected by the past two months' hurricanes owe their lives to the brave emergency responders at state and city police departments, 911 call centers, fire stations, the National Guard, and the Red Cross. But what about the wild animals whose habitats have also been destroyed? That's where wildlife rehabilitators, or "rehabbers," come in—specially trained and licensed individuals (often working as volunteers) who typically work in collaboration with local wildlife centers to retrieve and rehabilitate mammals, birds, reptiles and other species in distress.
Wildlife centers are often sparsely staffed and underfunded. In the aftermath of a natural disaster, they depend on networks of wildlife rehabbers to help respond to the barrage of calls, emails, and texts that come in about animals in danger. This was certainly the case when Hurricane Harvey pummeled Houston, Texas in August. TWRC Wildlife Center Executive Director Roslyn Even had to evacuate all staff and animals from their facility (the Center is located in a flood zone behind a reservoir); in the days that followed, TWRC relied on individual rehabbers to connect with callers seeking assistance. "Those [rehabbers] who could leave their homes would make arrangements to meet people in the neighborhoods who had animals," Even explained.
A TWRC staffer feeds a baby squirrel rescued during Hurricane Harvey. The TWRC Wildlife Center
In addition to several baby squirrels and hummingbirds, TWRC rescued one of the most famous faces of Hurricane Harvey: Harvey the Hurricane Hawk. After TWRC staff member Liz Compton saw a YouTube video of a Cooper's Hawk riding inside a cab (apparently unable to fly away), Compton contacted the driver and found her way through the flooded streets to retrieve the hawk for rehabilitation. The story went viral, with people from all over the world expressing concern over the hawk. Once rescued, it was quickly identified as a female, but the name stuck. After significant recovery, she was transferred to the Blackland Prairie Raptor Center for further rehabilitation, and was recently released back into the wild. Roslyn Even cites the hawk's high profile as a silver lining in the hurricane's wake. "I think we'll be able to take better care of the animals that are here surviving, because there is more awareness."
In other cases, residents were left with no other choice than to take in struggling animals until the roads were safe enough to get them to a wildlife center. "They themselves were waiting to be rescued," Even said of the people calling in. TWRC staffers offered helpful information on how to keep the animals warm and safe. "That was one of the only times we've ever given advice on how to feed the animal," said Even. She explains that normally, rehabilitators advise citizens not to feed or give the animal anything to drink for fear of causing more harm. "It was going to be days before we could get to the animal," she said. "There wasn't easy access; it was like a maze to get from one side of town to the other. People had to go hours out of their way."
Rehabbers flocked in from other cities to join the relief effort. When a video depicting Alicia Plunkett's efforts to save Houston's famous Waugh Bridge bat colony went viral, Erica Quinzel of Bat World Sanctuary in Weatherford, Texas—almost 300 miles north of Houston—jumped in the car and headed south. Despite suffering several flat tires from driving through flooded, debris-filled streets, Quinzel managed to take all of the hundreds of bats Plunkett had rescued and provide them with fluids, meals, and warmth until they could be released. Before the flooding became too dangerous, Quinzel also aided Plunkett in rescuing as many additional Waugh Bridge bats as possible. The majority were rehabilitated and released by Quinzel within days, and 70 bats were transported back to Bat World Sanctuary for specialized rehabilitation for broken wings and other injuries.
Bats rescued from Hurricane Harvey.Bat World
San Antonio-based wildlife rehabilitator Michelle Camara—director of Bat World Alamo and owner of Southern Wildlife Rehab—took another approach: organizing a fundraiser to support Harvey-affected rehabbers throughout the state. After the online campaign garnered national attention, Animal Help Now and IWRC (International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council) joined with Camara to expand the fundraiser to include wildlife rehabilitators responding to Hurricane Irma and other climate events. The more than $12,000 donated so far has now been distributed to rehabbers and wildlife centers working with limited and flooding-damaged supplies.
Not long after Harvey made landfall in Texas, Hurricane Irma hit Florida, and the state's wildlife rehabbers sprang into action. Fort Lauderdale's Southern Florida Wildlife Center relocated several hundred animals before closing its doors out of safety concerns as Irma made landfall. The Center's staff and volunteer wildlife rehabilitators were left to take in and foster newly injured and orphaned animals—mostly young squirrels, juvenile birds, and baby raccoons blown out of their nests and trees during the worst of the storm.
On Florida's Gulf coast, in the midst of raging winds, power outages, and dwindling supplies, the Wildlife Center of Venice took in a record 130 animals—more than 10 times its usual workload. Incredibly, volunteers still showed up that day to take care of the center's newest residents: wildlife orphaned and injured by Florida's latest disaster.
Meanwhile, on South Florida's other coast, licensed wildlife rehabilitator Lloyd Brown spent the first 12 hours of "landfall day" alone at the center he founded, Wildlife Rescue of Dade County, waiting for volunteers to brave the storm and help field the constant intake of wildlife. "I could barely get one animal treated before another animal came in," recalled Brown, a firefighter who spends his off days running (and funding out-of-pocket) the center. The most common greeting Brown heard upon picking up the receiver that Monday? "Oh thank God someone finally answered the phone!" During that worst day of the hurricane, fellow rehabbers in the area had apparently been unable to take calls.
A rehabber-vet feeds an injured raccoon in the wake of Hurricane Irma.Lloyd Brown
A rehabber since 1993, Brown worked for years as one of the lead rescuers for the U.S. and International Chapters of the Humane Society, saving animals in dire straits across the globe. When he isn't fighting fires or rescuing animals, he teaches a natural disaster response course for other animal rehab centers. "Everybody has a plan until it actually hits. Then your plan starts to fall apart," said Brown, whose course encourages people to rehearse for disasters and ensure that things like backup generators are working properly. One important takeaway from Brown's experience with Irma? To always have liquid canned formula on hand, in case of power loss, which can cause powdered formula to spoil.
A rehabilitated baby raccoon. Austin Wildlife Rescue
A thousand miles southeast of Florida, the island of Puerto Rico lies exposed in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. Slammed with back-to-back hurricanes this season, Caribbean wildlife had little time to find shelter before the next big storm. In anticipation of the arrival of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, Puerto Rico's U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) staff took preemptive measures to protect wildlife in the El Yunque Aviary, located in Northwest Puerto Rico's mountainous El Yunque National Forest. Two FWS employees spent a day gathering the endangered Puerto Rican parrots in their care and "hunkered down" with the birds high up in the mountains. These dedicated employees weathered the storm in the aviary's hurricane room, constructed to withstand hurricane-force winds. FWS public affairs specialist Mark Davis confirms that all but four Puerto Rican parrots made it safely through Hurricanes Irma and Maria in the El Yunque Aviary. Like so many wild species this hurricane season, these parrots' safety can be credited directly to the heroic efforts of wildlife specialists and rehabilitators.
Rehabbers help maintain humans' and animals' delicate coexistence within an uncertain, ever-changing climate. Camara emphasizes the importance and urgency of funding rehabbers, especially in times of crises, as they often pay out-of-pocket for supplies to take care of rescued animals. "Give five dollars to Red Cross and five dollars to a wildlife rehabber," she suggests, noting that these funds go directly to wildlife centers with no strings attached—allowing rehabbers to do their jobs minus the burden of applying for grants and waiting for funds to arrive.
Camara notes that rehabbers must take risks and deal with grief on a regular basis, because despite their best efforts, injured animals often die on their watch. Still, as natural disasters ravage coasts and cities, rehabbers keep going out there to help the helpless. "We're a special breed of people," she says. "We're like superheroes. We can handle everything. That's what we do."
Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA Magazine.
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By Melissa Hawkins
After sustained declines in the number of COVID-19 cases over recent months, restrictions are starting to ease across the United States. Numbers of new cases are falling or stable at low numbers in some states, but they are surging in many others. Overall, the U.S. is experiencing a sharp increase in the number of new cases a day, and by late June, had surpassed the peak rate of spread in early April.
Seven day rolling average of number of people confirmed to have COVID-19, per day (not including today). This chart gets updated once per day with data by Johns Hopkins. Johns Hopkins university doesn't provide reliable data for March 12 and March 13. Johns Hopkins CSSE Get the data
To Have a Second Wave, the First Wave Needs to End.<p>A wave of an infection describes a large rise and fall in the number of cases. There isn't a precise epidemiological definition of when a wave begins or ends.</p><p>But with talk of a <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/27/new-covid-19-clusters-across-world-spark-fear-of-second-wave" target="_blank">second wave in the news</a>, as an <a href="https://www.american.edu/cas/faculty/mhawkins.cfm" target="_blank">epidemiologist and public health researcher</a>, I think there are two necessary factors that must be met before we can colloquially declare a second wave.</p><p>First, the virus would have to be controlled and transmission brought down to a very low level. That would be the end of the first wave. Then, the virus would need to reappear and result in a large increase in cases and hospitalizations.</p><p>Many countries in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-020-0908-8" target="_blank">Europe and Asia have successfully ended the first wave</a>. <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/08/new-zealand-abandons-covid-19-restrictions-after-nation-declared-no-cases" target="_blank">New Zealand</a> and <a href="https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/06/08/how-iceland-beat-the-coronavirus" target="_blank">Iceland</a> have also made it through their first waves and are now essentially coronavirus-free, with very low levels of community transmission and only a handful of active cases currently.</p>
Different States, Different Trends<p>Looking at U.S. numbers as a whole hides what is really going on. Different states are in <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html" target="_blank">vastly different situations right now</a> and when you look at states individually, four major categories emerge.</p><ol><li>Places where the first wave is ending: States in the Northeast and a few scattered elsewhere experienced large initial spikes but were able to mostly contain the virus and substantially brought down new infections. <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/new-york-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">New York</a> is a good example of this.</li><li>Places still in the first wave: Several states in the South and West – see <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/texas-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Texas</a> and <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/california-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">California</a> – had some cases early on, but are now seeing massive surges with no sign of slowing down.</li><li>Places in between: Many states were hit early in the first wave, managed to slow it down, but are either at a plateau – like <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/north-dakota-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">North Dakota</a> – or are now seeing steep increases – like <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/oklahoma-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Oklahoma</a>.</li><li>Places experiencing local second waves: Looking only at a state level, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/hawaii-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Hawaii</a>, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/montana-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Montana</a> and <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/alaska-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Alaska</a> could be said to be experiencing second waves. Each state experienced relatively small initial outbreaks and was able to reduce spread to single digits of daily new confirmed cases, but are now all seeing spikes again.</li></ol><p>The trends aren't surprising based on how states have been dealing with reopening. The virus will go wherever there are susceptible people and until the U.S. stops community spread across the entire country, the first wave isn't over.</p>
What Could a Second Wave Look Like?<p>It is possible – though at this point it seems unlikely – that the U.S. could control the virus before a vaccine is developed. If that happens, it would be time to start thinking about a second wave. The question of what it might look like depends in large part on everyone's actions.</p><p>The <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1086%2F592454" target="_blank">1918 flu pandemic</a> was characterized by a mild first wave in the winter of 1917-1918 that went away in summer. After restrictions were lifted, people very quickly went back to pre-pandemic life. But a second, deadlier strain came back in fall of 1918 and third in spring of 1919. In total, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918-commemoration/1918-pandemic-history.htm" target="_blank">more than 500 million people were infected</a> worldwide and upwards of <a href="https://theconversation.com/compare-the-flu-pandemic-of-1918-and-covid-19-with-caution-the-past-is-not-a-prediction-138895" target="_blank">50 million died</a> over the course of three waves.</p><p>It was the combination of a quick return to normal life and a mutation in the flu's genome that made it more deadly that led to the horrific second and third waves.</p><p>Thankfully, the coronavirus appears to be much more <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.meegid.2020.104351" target="_blank">genetically stable</a> than the influenza virus, and thus less likely to mutate into a more deadly variant. That leaves human behavior as the main risk factor.</p><p>Until a <a href="https://theconversation.com/what-needs-to-go-right-to-get-a-coronavirus-vaccine-in-12-18-months-136816" target="_blank">vaccine or effective treatment is developed</a>, the tried-and-true public health measures of the last months – <a href="https://theconversation.com/this-simple-model-shows-the-importance-of-wearing-masks-and-social-distancing-140423" target="_blank">social distancing,</a> <a href="https://theconversation.com/masks-help-stop-the-spread-of-coronavirus-the-science-is-simple-and-im-one-of-100-experts-urging-governors-to-require-public-mask-wearing-138507" target="_blank">universal mask wearing</a>, frequent hand-washing and avoiding crowded indoor spaces – are the ways to stop the first wave and thwart a second one. And when there are surges like what is happening now in the U.S., further reopening plans need to be put on hold.</p>
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Gluts of food left to rot as a consequence of coronavirus aren't just wasteful – they're also likely to damage the environment.
Methane on the Rise<p>Not only is this a tragic waste of food at a time when many are going hungry, it is also an <a href="https://donatedontdump.net/2014/07/07/the-effects-of-food-waste-on-the-environment-by-junemy-pantig/" target="_blank">environmental hazard</a> and could contribute to global warming. Landfill gas – <a href="https://www.epa.gov/lmop/basic-information-about-landfill-gas" target="_blank">roughly half methane and half carbon dioxide (CO2)</a> – is a natural byproduct of the decomposition of organic material.</p>
Food decay leads to production of greenhouse gases, methane and carbon dioxide. EPA<p>Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, 28 to <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/02/SYR_AR5_FINAL_full.pdf" target="_blank">36 times more effective than CO2 at trapping heat</a> in the atmosphere over a 100-year period, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.</p><p>"Many export-oriented producers produce volumes far too large for output to be absorbed in local markets, and thus <a href="https://unctad.org/en/pages/newsdetails.aspx?OriginalVersionID=2333" target="_blank">organic waste levels have mounted substantially</a>," says Robert Hamwey, Economic Affairs Officer at UN agency UNCTAD. "Because this waste is left to decay, levels of methane emissions, a greenhouse gas, from decaying produce are expected to rise sharply in the crisis and immediate post-crisis months."</p>
Food supply chains are easily disrupted. UN FAO<p>Dumping food was already a problem before the crisis. In America alone, <a href="https://www.refed.com/?sort=economic-value-per-ton" target="_blank">$218 billion is spent growing, processing, transporting</a> and disposing of food that is never eaten, estimates ReFED, a collection of business, non-profit and government leaders committed to reducing food waste. That's equivalent to around 1.3% of GDP.</p><p>Since the pandemic took hold, <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-52267943" target="_blank">farmers are dumping 14 million liters</a> of milk each day because of disrupted supply routes, estimates Dairy Farmers of America. A chicken processor was forced to <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/11/business/coronavirus-destroying-food.html" target="_blank">destroy 750,000 unhatched eggs a week</a>, according to the New York Times, which also cited an onion farmer letting most of his harvest decompose because he couldn't distribute or store them.</p>
Food Prices Collapsing<p>The excess has also seen prices collapse. The <a href="http://www.fao.org/worldfoodsituation/foodpricesindex/en/" target="_blank">FAO Food Price Index</a> (FFPI) averaged 162.5 points in May 2020, down 3.1 points from April and reaching the lowest monthly average since December 2018. The gauge has dropped for four consecutive months, and the latest decline reflects falling values of all the food commodities – dairy, meat, cereal, vegetable – except sugar, which rose for the first time in three months.</p><p>All this while the pandemic is exacerbating other global food trends.</p><p>"This year, some 49 million extra people may fall into extreme poverty due to the COVID-19 crisis," said António Guterres, Secretary-General of the UN. "The number of people who are acutely food or nutrition insecure will rapidly expand. <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fGhLKAbNDiY&feature=youtu.be" target="_blank">Even in countries with abundant food, we see risks of disruptions in the food supply chain</a>."</p>
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