Hurricane Sandy and the Effect on Wildlife

Over the past week, Hurricane Sandy blasted through the East coast of the United States and made her way into Canada. Many people suffered extraordinary losses as their homes were destroyed or damaged by storm surges, flooding, and downed trees. Many lost (and continue to be without) power, leaving them without heat, warm showers, transportation, and fresh food.

Dead tree with broken branches

Here at Animal Fact Guide headquarters in New London, Connecticut, I looked out the window of my darkened house on Monday afternoon. The wind was shaking the building, and big branches cracked as they snapped off a tree and then thudded to the ground. I noticed a squirrel perched on one of the tree’s lower branches huddled against the trunk, bracing himself against the powerful gusts. I wondered if animals were as adversely affected by hurricanes as we were.

I think that with people’s complete dependence on their homes and technology for safety and for their way of life, hurricanes do have a more devastating effect on people. But hurricanes also deeply impact wildlife in several ways:

Wind Dislocation
While songbirds and woodland birds can usually ride out a storm by holding on to their perches, powerful winds from a hurricane can blow migrating birds hundreds of miles off course or push shore birds inland.

Downed tree branchesTree Loss
Downed trees can be devastating to species who rely on certain types of trees for food and shelter. Food sources are also lost as the seeds and fruits get blown off trees.

Storm Surges
Storm surges destroy seaside habitats. Nest sites can be washed away by rising tides. In certain cases, entire beaches can be washed away. (This happened here in New London when Hurricane Sandy washed away Osprey Beach.) The influx of seawater also disrupts the balance of salt in wetlands, causing harm to marsh grasses, crabs, fish hatchlings, and minnows. Furthermore, the flooding causes sediment and pollutants to enter waterways, which negatively impacts marine animals.

What You Can Do
During a hurricane, the best thing you can do is stay safe.  Listen to government officials and heed their advice. Evacuate your home before the storm if necessary and seek shelter in a safe location. Stay inside during the storm to keep safe from falling branches and flying debris. After the storm, avoid going near downed power lines.

In terms of helping wildlife, if you see any rare species or injured animals, report them to your local wildlife agency. You can also fill your bird feeders to help tired songbirds recover after the storm.

But in the grand scheme of things, the increasing frequency of storms like Sandy remind us of the effect global warming is having on our planet.  A warming planet means more extreme weather headed our way more frequently. It means more storms and more droughts. With that in mind, it’s important to renew our efforts to curb our carbon emissions on a personal level and appeal to our politicians to instate policies that will cut back on carbon emissions on a global scale.

Learn more about how hurricanes and wildlife:

Baby White Rhinoceros at Busch Gardens

Baby white rhino at Busch Gardens

A rare white rhino was born at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay under the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan.

Busch Gardens Tampa Bay welcomed a female baby white rhinoceros on Tuesday, October 23, 2012. The baby is the second calf born to mother Kisiri and the seventh calf born to father Tambo. Busch Gardens has celebrated a total of seven white rhino births since October 2004. The new baby weighed an estimated 140 pounds at birth. The newborn – who has yet to be named – will gain approximately four pounds each day until it reaches an adult weight of approximately 3,500 to 4,000 pounds.

Baby white rhino

Busch Gardens participates in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP) to ensure genetic diversification among threatened and endangered animals in zoological facilities. The birth brings the total white and black rhino population at the adventure park to eight.

Kisiri, Tambo and another female white rhino were airlifted from Kruger National Park in South Africa in 2001 through the efforts of the International Rhino Foundation (IRF), a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection of rhinos. Fewer than 15,000 white rhinos remain in the wild, and approximately 200 live in zoological facilities across North America.

Rising Sea Levels Threaten Marsh Rabbit

Marsh rabbit

Photo by Tomfriedel.

In the Florida Keys, a very endangered species of rabbit faces a tough future. As sea levels rise, suitable habitat for the Lower Keys marsh rabbit shrinks. Increased development in the area further impacts the rabbits’ chance of survival because it not only blocks the rabbits from moving inland, it also blocks the necessary vegetation from “migrating” inland as well.

Once abundant in the keys, only a few hundred Lower Marsh rabbits remain. According to Jeff Gore, a statewide wildlife biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, “Obviously, it’s already having an effect on the marsh rabbit, but in a state like Florida with so much coastline and so many endangered species, it’s going to be a major concern for decades to come.”

Read more at Science Blog.

Man-Made Cave Built to Save Bats from White-Nose Syndrome

Millions of bats have died from a disease called white-nose syndrome. When bats are hibernating in the winter, a white fungus covers their noses, wings, ears and tails. Bats with the disease display unusual behavior such as flying outside in the winter and clustering near the entrance of a cave. This leads bats to starve to death from excess activity or to freeze to death. The disease was first documented 2006 in eastern New York and has spread to other eastern U.S. states and Canadian provinces since then.

Currently, conservationists are attacking the problem from multiple angles, including treating the infection or developing a vaccine. But The Nature Conservancy is taking a different approach. They have built an artificial cave in Tennessee hoping to lure bats from a nearby natural cave that displays early signs of white-nose syndrome. If they are successful in attracting tenants, they will be able to control the disease in their cave by cleaning it every summer. In a natural cave, they cannot spray or hose it down without destroying the other natural organisms that thrive in that environment. Building a man-made cave specifically for bats allows for a safe, disease-free shelter for the bats every winter without disrupting the flora and fauna of the natural cave.

Read more at NPR >

Conservation Canines: Dogs Helping Endangered Animals

Did you know you don’t have to be human to be an environmentalist?  Specially-trained dogs from the group Conservation Canines have been assisting scientists protect endangered species since 1997.

With their highly sophisticated sense of smell paired with their insatiable urge to play (their reward at the end of the day), dogs can track scat, or animal droppings, from miles away.  Once located, the scientists can analyze the scat for genetic, physiological, and dietary information.  This provides clues to the animal’s behavior and environment which helps conservationists determine the best way to protect it.

The dogs, which are adopted from animal shelters and then trained by the crew at Conservation Canines, track scat from a variety of endangered animals. The list includes tigers, orcas, fishers, spotted owls, bears, wolves, caribou, giant armadillos, giant anteaters, pumas, jaguars, and Pacific pocket mice.

Watch a video below about Tucker, a black labrador mix who specializes in tracking orca scat. This is a tricky task because he must catch the scent over open water, the scat can move around and/or sink in the water, and he must provide signals to his human coworkers so they can steer the boat in the correct direction.

To learn more, see:

Conservation Canines website
NY Times

American Prairie Reserve Purchases 150,000 Acre Montana Ranch

bison

More bison could start to live naturally on the prairie with the American Prairie Reserve’s purchase of 150,000 acres of Montana grassland.

The American Prairie Reserve, a non-profit land trust based in Bozeman, Montana, recently purchased a sizable plot of land (150,000 acres) adjacent to the C.M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge.  South Ranch, the purchased land, was originally set up as a cattle ranch and is located 60 miles south of the Canadian border.

In purchasing the ranch, the American Prairie Reserve has taken one step towards their main goal of creating a wildlife preserve larger than the state of Connecticut.  Their goal involves acquiring more land, pulling down the fences that once contained cattle, and allowing the area to return to the natural ecosystem that once existed in that part of the U.S.  This means bison, pronghorn antelope, prairie dogs, and their natural predators free flowing through an uninhabited area of prairie land.

To learn more, see:

The Montana Standard
American Prairie Reserve

Rare Sumatran Rhino Calf Born

On June 23, Ratu, a rare Sumatran rhino living at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Indonesia, gave birth to a healthy male calf who weighs between 60 and 70 pounds.

“We are overjoyed that Ratu delivered a healthy calf and are cautiously optimistic that the calf will continue to thrive,” said Dr. Susie Ellis, executive director of the International Rhino Foundation. “The little guy is absolutely adorable, and none of us has been able to stop smiling since the moment we were sure he was alive and healthy. We have been waiting for this moment since the sanctuary was built in 1998. The International Rhino Foundation is honored to play an important role in protecting rhinos. We are hopeful the Sumatran rhino population will thrive once again.”

Ratu had miscarried two calves prior to this pregnancy, but this time, sanctuary staff gave her a hormone supplement that prevented her from miscarrying again. (Read all our posts about Ratu here.)

With fewer than 200 Sumatran rhinos living in Indonesia and Malaysia, this birth is a significant step in preserving the population. They face threats such as continuing loss of their tropical forest habitat and hunting.

For more information, see the International Rhino Foundation website.

Bison: America’s National Mammal?

American bisonThe bald eagle has been the national emblem of the United States since 1782, when it was adopted as a symbol of freedom and its imagery was incorporated into the Great Seal.  Its symbolic status helped people rally around it when it faced extinction in the mid twentieth century due to human encroachment and the pesticide DDT.  In recent years, the bald eagle population has recovered, and it was taken off the endangered species list in 2007.

Similar to the role of national bird, Senator Mike Enzi (R) of Wyoming and Senator Tim Johnson (D) of South Dakota introduced a bill that would recognize the bison as America’s national mammal.  Vast herds of American bison once roamed from Canada to Mexico.  From a population that numbered in the millions, American bison dwindled to near extinction by the 1880s, driven there by American settlers.

Today, bison populations have started to recover.  There are about half a million bison living today. However most of the bison live in commercial herds and carry genes from cattle. Only a few thousand bison are pure descendants of the vast herds that dominated the Great Plains centuries ago.

To urge your senator to co-sponsor the National Bison Legacy Act, which will help preserve this great species and honor it for its significant role in American history, visit Vote Bison and sign the petition.

To learn more about bison, see Animal Fact Guide’s article, American Bison.

WWF’s Living Planet Report

Tree

The World Wildlife Fund, in collaboration with Global Footprint Network and Zoological Society London, has released its 2012 Living Planet Report.

The findings are less than optimal. The study shows that:

  • Biodiversity declined 30% between 1978 and 2008.
  • We currently use 1.5 planets’ worth of natural resources to support our activities. It is projected that by 2030, two planets would not support our rate of consumption.
  • High income countries use five times the amount of natural resources as low income countries.

But there are steps we can take to change this destructive path.  The report suggests:

  • Preserving and restoring biodiversity.
  • Optimizing our food production by reducing waste, using better seeds and cultivation techniques, restoring degraded land, and lowering meat consumption and reducing food waste in high income countries.
  • Conserving water with smarter irrigation techniques and planning.
  • Using clean, abundant energy sources like wind and sunlight, as well as increasing the energy efficiency of our buildings, factories, and cars.

For more information, see the WWF website.