Hurricane Sally brings flood of animals to refuge in record numbers
NAVARRRE — Humans weren’t the only ones impacted when Hurricane Sally pummeled the area with wind, rain and storm surge Sept. 16. The area’s natural wildlife was not immune from Sally’s wrath, and many found their way to the Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge.
“Since Hurricane Sally hit we’ve taken in about 120 animals,” Stormy Andersen, executive director of the refuge, said Wednesday. “As far as the bird species go, we’ve had everything from baby hummingbirds from fully grown pelicans.”
Andersen ticks off a laundry list of local wildlife, including opossums, raccoons, gray foxes, fawns, eastern ground squirrels and flying squirrels — all animals the refuge has seen before but just not in such numbers.
More (Nov. 2019):Wildlife Refuge relocates animals to new Navarre site
“One hundred and twenty in less than a week is crazy,” Andersen said. “Our one-day record before Hurricane Sally was 25 animals in one day. We had 45 the day after Hurricane Sally came through.”
The sudden influx has stretched the refuge's human and financial resources.
“The fist day after Sally I think we ran through a month’s worth of personal protective gear,” Andersen said. “We ran through formula faster than I think we ever have.”
She said a 3- to 5-gallon bucket of baby animal formula costs about $220. The refuge also lost power for several days and had to throw out a lot of the frozen food it feeds the animals.
“All donations are welcome,” but Andersen said the refuge is particularly in need of animal food including frozen beef, chicken and fish, yogurt, fresh or boiled eggs, and hard cheeses, as well as cleaning supplies.
Despite the setback, inside the refuge’s medical facility the work of caring for injured wildlife continues.
A brown pelican waddles freely down the facility’s main hall as staffers watch the bird flex its wings to assess if it has any injuries.
In one room, intern Abigail Clanton feeds a tiny hummingbird, a process that needs to be repeated about every 15 minutes. She checks on a baby flying squirrel before moving on to feed a juvenile eastern ground squirrel, who laps hungrily from a syringe full of formula.
In another room, looking like little furry bandits, raccoons peer out from a cage as they recover in a quiet isolated room. The raccoons are young and haven’t yet learned to fend for themselves, Andersen said. They will likely spend the winter at the refuge and be released in the spring.
A week out from Hurricane Sally, “We’re really focusing on making sure that those animals are healthy…and releasing them back into the wild as quickly as possible," Andersen said.
In addition to the influx of animals, Sally also brought some other gifts, including a broken water main, flooding along part of the refuge grounds and debris strewn around the property. The refuge lost power last Wednesday, but electricity had been restored by Friday night and volunteers spent several days cleaning up the property.
“Today is really the first day that we are back to a sense of normalcy,” Andersen said. “We actually opened up the education and outreach center for the first time since Hurricane Sally came through.”