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Photo by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

Frigid temps put strain on wildlife and pets alike

Friday, February 19, 2021 by Seth Smalley

As an energy crisis triggered by unusually frigid weather persists throughout the state, even our wild neighbors have struggled to adjust, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department reports.

Mortality events have been observed in several bird species, including various species of waterfowl, purple martins and other songbirds. Fatalities are more likely in areas in which abnormal levels of snow have covered the food supply.

Wild birds with reduced capability to store fat (and insulate) are more at risk, TPWD reports. Many are relying on seed from bird feeders as one of their only sources of food. Some birds will be noticeably more puffy than usual, as they ruffle their feathers to trap heat.

Birds in search of water have congregated on roads and other areas where the snow is melting, resulting in increased instances of roadkill. Additionally, waterfowl are dying in greater numbers due to freezing wetlands.

Meanwhile, local wildlife resources are also being strained amid the rolling blackouts and water line breakages.

“Please know that our response time may be a little slower considering that many of our employees throughout the state are still without power, internet and water,” said a spokesperson for TPWD.

Animal Services initially observed a 700 percent increase in negligence calls, such as reports of dogs and cats left outside in the snow, but staffers were relieved to discover the vast majority of these callers were mistaken, and just being overly cautious. In addition to losing running water, Austin Pets Alive! lost power Monday night at its Town Lake location, and didn’t recover it until 1 a.m. Wednesday.

“Our main facility lost power, which houses the majority of our pets, our parvo ICU and our clinic,” said Katera Berent, an Austin Pets Alive! spokesperson.

The nonprofit is asking for donations of bottled or boiled water, diesel fuel to power its generator and cold-weather accessories for staff and volunteers.

Thousands of sea turtles were rescued from drowning in South Texas, when the cold waters physiologically stunned their bodies, preventing them from being able to move or breathe. A stunned turtle hotline, 1-866-TURTLE5, is now live.

And chimpanzees, monkeys and lemurs were found perished on Wednesday in a San Antonio animal sanctuary that had lost heat and electricity.

Alligators are safe in acute doses of cold weather, according to TPWD, but the jury is out on the long-term consequences of the present frigid conditions. Fish are safe if they can venture into deep waters, but there have been shallow-water mass casualty events – so-called fish kills – during cold snaps in the past.

TPWD is in the process of compiling information on Austin salamanders.

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