Texas Drought Takes Its Toll On Wildlife

August 26, 2011

John Burnett

The unfolding calamity that is the Texas drought has thrown nature out of balance. Many of the wild things that live in this state are suffering.

Sections of major rivers — like the Brazos, the Guadalupe, the Blanco, Llano and Pedernales — have dried up. In many places, there aren't even mud holes anymore.

"The drought is hammering Texas," says Cindy Loeffler, the water resources branch chief at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. "Usually we don't see impacts to fish and wildlife, they're adapted to hot, dry conditions in Texas. But this year, we're seeing impacts."

Starting at the coast, the lack of rain means low flowing rivers are not putting enough fresh water into coastal estuaries and bays. The resulting hyper salinity has allowed disease and predators to decimate this year's oyster crop.

Moving inland, the brutal heat has dried up puddles, ponds and artesian springs. So the mosquitoes that normally thrive in the Texas summer are noticeably absent in many areas. Though people are glad the mosquitoes are gone, bats depend on them.

"Here in Austin we have the largest urban colony of bats," Loeffler says. "They have been having to work overtime to find enough to eat. They've been coming out earlier in the evening and they're out later in the morning."

Across town at the Wildlife Rescue shelter, people are bringing in distressed creatures all day. Susan Edwards, manager of Wildlife Rescue, stands next to a dozen sickly baby squirrels.

"The mothers don't even have enough water to make milk," Edwards says. "So they're pushing their babies outa the nest sooner, and they have to give their children up to death, because they cannot survive themself."

There are reports the same thing is happening to deer – does abandoning their fawns to save themselves.

The whole food chain is getting disfigured: Plants don't grow normally without rain, the bugs that eat the plants are undernourished, so they don't make a proper meal for insectivores.

There are reports that skunks, raccoons and possums that hunt and scavenge at night can't find enough food, and they're being spotted during the day.

Somebody brought an old male possum into Wildlife Rescue rather than watch it die of starvation.

Susan Edwards lets a juvenile raccoon cling to her shoulder — its head seems curiously outsized for its puny body.

"This raccoon should at least be double her size," Edwards says. "The water sources are so poor the mother's milk was not full of the good nutrients it needed to be."

At the end of a normal summer, cicadas usually serenade Texas Hill Country. But even the cicadas have been quieted by the Texas drought, and nobody knows when it will end.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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