When disaster strikes, we humans can usually seek shelter in the comfort of our own homes or drive to a safer place. But for the countless wild animals that share the impact of these deadly disasters, weathering the storm sometimes means they end up crossing paths with humans.
If you see an animal in distress after a flood, hurricane or other emergency, keep a few things in mind when dealing with our furry, scaled and feathered friends:
1) Don’t touch them. As much as you may want to come to the aid of wild animals, animal aid groups advise that you do not corner or try to rescue them. Wild animals have a natural “flight” response that will encourage them to flee from anyone who comes too close. If animals feel they are being threatened, they may flee from a relatively safe position — such as atop a makeshift island during a flood — to a harmful and even life-threatening situation — such as into rapidly flowing flood water. If you find an animal in a life-threatening situation, call your local animal control, which has specially trained staff who can help.
2) Get professional help. Naturally, wildlife will search for refuge during natural disasters and your home may be an ideal place for small animals like snakes, raccoons, squirrels and rats to take shelter. If you discover that wildlife is in your home, again, the best advice is not to touch them. Instead, open a window or other escape route for the animal to leave on its own. If this doesn’t work, call your local animal control or wildlife office for assistance.
3) Be watchful. Following natural disasters, wild animals may still be recovering from the traumatic experiences they have just faced. This means that many animals will be hypersensitive and display more erratic behavior than normal. Such unpredictable behavior can be dangerous to both you and the animals themselves. To keep both us and them safe, be watchful of wild animals. If you are confronted by a traumatized animal and are bitten or harmed in any way, seek immediate medical attention.
Photo: An animal protection group rescued these baby squirrels in Texas in October 2008 following Hurricane Ike. Courtesy Leif Skoogers/FEMA