Alone in the Storm: Wildlife Displaced, Injured, or Killed by Hurricane Florence
by Oscar Mayer
Hurricane Florence barreled toward the coast of North Carolina on September 1st, 2018. The Storm grew more threatening with every passing moment. Evacuations began in mass as North Carolinians escaped Florence’s path to save themselves and their loved ones. But for the local wildlife, there was no place to escape.
Hurricanes are not incredibly uncommon in North Carolina. As Tricia Hoover from Wildlife Welfare pointed out, “North Carolina seems to get the worst hurricanes in the fall which is baby squirrel season”. What was uncommon, however, was the sheer power of Hurricane Florence. 70 miles-per-hour winds and massive flooding events ravaged natural habitats, leaving wild animals stranded without refuge.
A high-velocity gust of wind could easily snap a bird’s fragile bones and rip a squirrel nest right out of a tree. The effects of these winds are all the more devastating as Florence hit at the peak of the baby squirrel season. As inches of rain accumulated into feet on the surface of North Carolina, ground-dwelling animals like rabbits and mice were drowned in their burrows. The true number of fatalities of these animals will remain unknown as their lives were taken so suddenly and quietly.
While Hurricane Florence was violent and dramatic, wildlife has yet to feel the worst of the storm’s impact. Ana Arroyo, a licensed wildlife rehabilitator operating out of Ithaca, provided insights into the dire situation North Carolina Wildlife will continue to face in the coming months.
According to Arroyo, exposure will be the greatest challenge for wildlife to overcome. Arroyo stated,
“Animals that haven't been able to get out of the rain for days and become wet, cold, and dehydrated”.
Weakened and battered by Florence, Wildlife have to survive the aftermath of the destructive storm before returning to their baseline routine. With habitats already threatened by human expansion, Florence’s impact may have dealt a fatal blow to the North Carolina ecology. “[Animals] can find food and can find water, but they can’t find places to breed or they’re getting forced together, and that spreads diseases” according to Arroyo.
While many families evacuated the threatening weather, CLAWS, Inc., a Wildlife Sanctuary in Chapel Hill, remained dedicated to sheltering wildlife throughout the entire hurricane. “We were as available for wildlife as it was safe to be” Stated Kindra Mammone, The Executive Director of CLAWS, Inc., “all animals here were crated in case we had to evacuate, which we didn’t have to do. All animals that normally live outside were put in temporary caging inside and kept there until the entire storm passed”. Luckily, the efforts of CLAWS, Inc. paid off.
“We were hit by this storm for days on end” Stated Mammone, “but had fully prepared before the storm and got very lucky not to have any trees fall on enclosures”.
Lucky as CLAWS, Inc. was, potentially deadly hurricanes like Florence are becoming increasingly common. “We always get storms in the fall,” Stated Mammone, “we always get wildlife in during those”. Even before the storm, many rehabilitation shelters were operating on incredibly tight budgets and low resources. Storms and hurricane only exasperate the threat of resource shortages. Without support, many rehabilitation shelters will be forced to prematurely release animals or put them to sleep. How many more storms will it take before Wildlife Rehabilitation Centers like CLAWS, Inc. run out of luck?
As hurricanes and tropical storms become more devastating, humans will be able to adapt. Mass evacuations and fortified shelters will ensure the loss of human life will be minimized. But wildlife will continue to be left behind, to drown, to starve, to freeze. We need to ensure that Wildlife Rehabilitation Centers like CLAWS, Inc. will have the resources to save as many animals as possible. If they can’t ensure the safety of our wildlife, who will?