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September 2, 2010

Cape Wildlife Center Readies For Hurricane Earl

  • In the event of a hurricane, the raccoons, skunks, opossums, and birds at the center can readily be moved indoors from their outdoor habitats where they are currently being conditioned for release. 


While Massachusetts residents are closely watching Hurricane Earl as it heads toward the East Coast, more than 84 small wild animal patients temporarily living at Cape Wildlife Center—a full-time emergency care and wildlife rehabilitation center in Cape Cod, Mass.—have nothing to fear: contingency plans are firmly in place.

The plan

The six-car garage, which has been under renovation to become the new animal ward, is 90 percent complete and can easily withstand the anticipated impact. The raccoons, skunks, opossums, and birds can readily be moved indoors from their outdoor habitats where they are currently being conditioned for release.  Some of the patients, like the many baby squirrels currently in the indoor wards,  will continue to require feedings four times a day.

Staff Veterinarian Dr. Roberto Aguilar, Director Theresa Barbo, and other staff members are committed to the ongoing care of the animals in their charge. Generators, stockpiles of food supplies and water, and vehicles filled with fuel are lined up and ready. 

"We are taking every precaution as we plan and prepare for this imminent storm," said Barbo.

Storms and wildlife

Storms can take a toll on the native wildlife population. Baby animals are thrown from their nests. Others are blown into windows and buildings and left dazed. In the aftermath of a decent sized storm, the intake of animals at the wildlife center increases measurably.

While they are anticipating a "shelter in place" approach to Hurricane Earl, the center staff are also prepared to consider moving the animals off Cape as a last resort. The actual movement of animals is relatively easy, but the stress placed on them can be devastating.  Temporary relocation to an off-island zone of safety is a risk only undertaken to preserve health and safety of both animals and their caregivers.

"Any time there's a pending storm or disaster, this center—as for all of our animal centers—must be conscious of potential disasters," said Debra Drake Parsons, senior director of The HSUS's Animal Care Centers. "Storms put us on heightened alert, but we're prepared on an ongoing basis, whether the threat is from natural or manmade disasters."

Always prepared

Generators at the center are up and running in case the power goes out, since a power outage could mean life or death for some of the animals. The generators power heat lamps, heating pads, fans, refrigerators full of antibiotics, and other drugs, and freezers full of frozen food supply. These are all vital to the health and welfare of the animals who are there because they're sick or injured. They also keep lines of communication open.

"Natural or manmade, we're always cognizant of the threats around us," Parsons-Drake said.

Animal nutrition is a big issue at the center, and a seven- to 10-day supply of non-perishable foods is always on hand. Because many of the animals' diets consist of perishable foods such fresh fruit and greens, only a four- to five-day supply is kept.

The center's disaster plans also take into consideration a number of factors that can impact their response, like how many animals are sick, contagious, or injured, and whether human health might be affected.

Staff are vigilant about the placement of cages, especially those outside. Healthy, non-diseased animals are housed in exterior spaces in anticipation of release. These are thoroughly protected and give the animals access to interior niches for an extra sense of security and protection during stormy weather. Shades on cages are weighted to keep them from blowing.

In the unlikely event of evacuation, the center's trucks are always fueled and ready to go. An adequate supply of carriers is always on hand. 

"Natural or manmade, we're always cognizant of the threats around us," Parsons-Drake said.

The HSUS is listed in the state disaster plans for both Massachusetts and Rhode Island as a supporting agency. Both states have excellent infrastructures/disaster response teams.

More about the Cape Wildilfe Center»

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