The summer has only just started, and heat waves are already hitting the country pretty hard. While most of us know the drill for keeping humans and pets safe from the scorching temperatures, what can be done to help wildlife during extreme drought conditions and heat?
Hauling Thousands of Gallons of Water to Parched Animals
One thing that states across the nation have been doing is getting water out to animals in need. For the Nevada Department of Wildlife, that has meant water drop operations to fill up drinker systems called “guzzlers.” Guzzlers collect rainwater in large tanks and help provide a little extra hydration to wild animals during the hot summer. However, during especially dry years, they don’t get refilled naturally.
Douglas Nielson from NDOW says, “Normally it’s the seasonal rains we get between November and February that fills these tanks up and then they get replenished with the monsoons. We really haven’t had either one of those for a while.”
As a result, crews have had to use helicopters and buckets to deliver about 55,000 gallons of water to guzzlers located throughout the mountain ranges of southern Nevada. The main focus of this effort is the bighorn sheep population that lives in that area, but the extra water will be helpful for all species.
NDOW teamed up with partners to do the same thing in 2020. That year, they delivered more than 167,000 gallons to guzzlers across the state.
A similar effort has been going on in neighboring Arizona, where the state Game and Fish Department says it will likely be hauling out more water than ever to help wildlife this year. The agency began hauling water in 1946, and they delivered 2.4 million gallons to thousands of catchments across the state in 2020. They think that number will be about 3 million this year. If they don’t do this, officials say it could spell disaster for many animals.
Joseph Currie, who oversees the water catchment efforts, explains, “Historic drought periods such as this one, were typically followed by massive die-offs of wildlife.”
AZGFD says many animals have been caught on trail cameras drinking from the catchments. That includes elk, deer, bighorn sheep, squirrels, lizards, and even bats and bees.
For Arizonans who may want to help, officials say you can text “SENDWATER” to 41444 to help cover the cost of hauling water.
Steps Individuals Can Take
While the average person may not have the ability to haul thousands of gallons of water with a trusty helicopter, there are small things you can for the wild animals near you.
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The National Audubon Society says that to help birds, you can make sure your birdbath is filled with fresh water and scrubbed clean of any algae. If you don’t have a birdbath, you can place wide tubs and saucers of water in shaded places throughout your yard. To alert birds to the fact that you have water, it can be helpful to install something that makes it move, like a dripper, a sprayer or a bubbler in a pond.
Getting your birdfeeder and filling it with a little extra food may be helpful, too, as the heat can cause worms to tunnel into the soil.
For the future, you can also think about planting things in your garden that provide sufficient shade for our winged friends.
What about other animals? The tips are similar. RSPCA Australia recommends leaving bowls of fresh, clean water in shady spots. If you use a large bowl or container, add a rock or stick so that smaller animals can still get out. Be sure you place the water in a spot that is safe from predators and from your pets. Remember not to feed the animals.
If you notice wildlife that appears to be experiencing heat stress, you should only approach it if absolutely necessary and limit any handling. Signs of heat stress can include a loss of balance, collapsing, or appearing confused. If you do rescue an animal, wrap it loosely in a towel, put it in a cardboard box, and offer water. Then call a local wildlife organization or veterinarian for next steps.
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