WR&E Rises to the Challenge – with a little help from our friends!

The Wildlife Center was spic and span for our Annual Open House when all eyes shifted to the Gulf and Hurricane Ike. Any Gulf Coast hurricane makes rehabilitators anxious, but Ike seemed determined to follow in Rita’s footsteps. Executive Director, Sharon Schmalz evacuated to the Wildlife Center Friday (9/12) and with the help of some volunteers prepared the center and its animals for the storm.

Group of Squirrel babiesSaturday morning, Sharon reported minor damage and began shifting animals around by flashlight. By noon, people began showing up with baby squirrels.    Without power, it was difficult to care for the wildlife already in residence, much less the injured and orphaned by Ike. We are affiliated with the Houston SPCA  and they  invited us next door where a huge generator was providing power.

Boxes of SquirrelsThat afternoon we received 100+  babies. All four HSPCA veterinarians and vet techs helped triage, administer fluids and feed. Sunday, additional rehabilitators and volunteers were able to make it to the Wildlife Center to help with another 100+ squirrels. Monday brought another 300+ squirrels.

Power was restored Tuesday afternoon and WR&E’s volunteers poured in to help. HSPCA volunteers not needed for companion animal care were quickly trained and supervised. We began accepting volunteers from the general public and wound up training 160 emergency wildlife caretakers.

Flying Squirrel BabyWednesday passed in a blur with over 100 more squirrels. Sixteen hour days, worrying about how to find gas to commute from a house that probably didn’t have power began to wear. We were able to keep up at that point but started worrying about the next several days. Our phones finally started working on Thursday and we were back on the radar. Well, sort of………we now had over 600 squirrels AND the phone was constantly ringing.

By the end of the week we had outsourced many of the littlest guys to our permitted rehabilitators who had power.   Rebecca McKeever with Lone Star Wildlife Rescue answered our plea for help. Thank you, thank you, thank you! She contacted Wildlife Rescue in Austin, Texas and between them; they took over 250 into care.

Fox Squirrel Orphaned by IkeWe felt much better but then received 150 the next day, about 140 the next day and 100 the day after. We sent 50 to Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation in Kendalia, Texas.  The McKinney SPCA and rehabilitator Lee Watts coordinated moving 189 to Dallas rehabilitators. Lee spoke with TPWD to get authorization to move 144 to Wild Care Foundation in Oklahoma. Sheila Herrington from San Antonio, Texas drove to Houston to assist with the overwhelming number of squirrels.

Washing Oiled PelicanThe Texas General Land Office Oiled Wildlife Response Trailer was brought to the Wildlife Center in anticipation of oiled wildlife from Galveston and Seabrook areas. We were prepared for catastrophic damage to upper Gulf Coast chemical plants and refineries. Thanks to proper hurricane preparations, far fewer wildlife than anticipated were contaminated. Five oiled Brown Pelicans were cleaned and washed as well as an Osprey and an Opossum.

Broken Leg Squirrel BabyWe were very fortunate to have a team of 5 personnel from the Animal Humane Society, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. They had responded to help the Houston SPCA with companion animals but were assigned to help us with wildlife. We could not have done such a great job with the injured and sick babies if they were not there to help.

WR&E could not have mounted such a huge rehabilitation effort without “a little help from our friends”. It would have been impossible to coordinate incoming animals and supplies with individual rehabilitators without a centralized location.  Without the Wildlife Center’s state of the art hospital and rehabilitation facility, veterinarians, vet techs, rescue personnel, volunteers and the general public could not have brought immediate care and comfort to so many displaced animals.

Black Morph of Fox Squirrel

Black Morph of Fox Squirrel

Thank you to every person that cared enough to bring the injured and orphaned to us for help. Many of you gave your time as emergency volunteers to help care for these animals. We are grateful to those that donated money, Esbilac and other supplies. Our gratitude goes to the volunteers of WR&E and the HSPCA  who gave their time and resources when they didn’t know when the next tank of gas would be available, when their home would have power or when they’d get a needed “blue roof”. We are grateful to numerous individuals, companies and organizations that came to our aid when needed. We couldn’t have saved so many lives without your support.

Girl Scouts Prepare Rice Bags & Blankets for Ike Squirrels

Girl Scouts Prepare Rice Bags & Blankets for Ike Squirrels. They also brought squirrels houses and other needed supplies

Our most sincere thanks go to the individuals and organizations that drove long hours to Houston in order to take some of our squirrels when we wondered if there would ever be light at the end of the tunnel. Some of the squirrels went to areas that do not have gray squirrel populations, and those individuals committed to bring them back to us for release.  Wildlife rehabilitators are a great group of people and we are honored to be associated with you.

Why So Many Squirrels?

Love them or hate them, squirrels were by far the wildlife species hardest hit by Ike. WR&E began receiving orphaned squirrels within hours of Ike’s passing. In all, WR&E received over fifteen hundred (yes, that’s 1500) orphaned and injured squirrels during the 3 weeks following Hurricane Ike!

of the squirrels received after Hurricane Ike were eastern gray, but why hundreds and hundreds of squirrels and only a couple of  hundred other animals and birds? In a word….timing. Squirrels usually have two litters a year, one in spring and one in the fall.

They are the first mammal the Wildlife Center sees in large numbers each spring and the last in the fall. Research for the species article found that in less temperate climates, the eastern fox and eastern gray squirrels tend to stagger their litters by as much as a month. As Ike threatened, the fox squirrel babies tended to be older, the grays for the most part still had closed eyes. Ike’s one silver lining is that he arrived late enough that most of the babies were past the very vulnerable “pinkie” stage.