While most Lowcountry residents are well aware of Hurricane Matthew’s toll on trees, the storm also took its toll on animals – wild, captive and domestic.
The area’s longest-running wild animal rescue group, the Colleton County-based Keeper of the Wild, has been busy since Sunday picking up mostly orphaned baby squirrels from local veterinarian offices.
Janet Kinser, founder and director of Keeper of the Wild, said while most mammals – such as raccoons, otters, beavers and deer – bear young in the early spring, squirrels also have babies in late summer and that the storm blew many out of nests.
“Normally we tell people who find baby squirrels to put them back near the nest and the mothers usually take care of them, but in this case, there are no nests left,” said Kinser, adding that standing water under some trees also presents a threat.
Kinser says that Keeper of the Wild rehabbers also will have to keep the baby squirrels over the winter because they will still be too small to release when cold weather returns.
Complicating rescue efforts, Kinser added, have been roads that were blocked by trees and the fact that the all-volunteer, nonprofit is running out of its annual funds, used to buy gas and supplies such as formula for the baby squirrels.
In Summerville, the storm “devastated” the International Primate Protection League, according to development coordinator Joan Brooks. The center features a sanctuary for rescued gibbon apes, among other efforts to protect primates across the globe.
“We took every precaution we could – especially for our gibbons and the otters – so they were safe and unharmed. But as of Tuesday, we are still without power, telephones or the internet. We do have generators which have helped keep refrigerated and frozen food for the gibbons and otters from spoiling,” said Brooks.
She added the staff and volunteers have been working nonstop to pick up branches and limbs and remove the plywood panels from the gibbon house windows, but that uprooted and broken trees are blocking driveways and damaged fencing. The downed trees will need professional tree removal. Damaged walkways will need welding work.
Brooks said the gibbon houses are made of concrete, wood and brick, and are “virtually indestructible,” but a huge tree has damaged part of the roof of one house and there has been extensive damage to outdoor enclosures and aerial walkways that will require a professional welder to repair.
“It is impossible to estimate how long it will take to restore our sanctuary or how much it will cost, but we expect it could at least $50,000, maybe more,” said Brooks. “This is a huge, unexpected expense that has seriously impacted our budget. We would be most grateful for donations to help us in this time of need.”
So far, Jim Elliott at The Center for Birds of Prey said they haven’t been getting calls about injured raptors.
“It would be a different story during nesting season,” said Elliott. “Eagles are on the front end of nesting.”
Despite not getting rescue calls, staff and volunteers at the Awendaw-based center had their hands full catching and moving 140 resident birds — including hawks, owls, falcons and vultures – to safe shelter on Thursday and Friday and getting them back out after the storm.
“We wanted to minimize the time they were indoors because it’s stressful for both them and us,” said Elliott, adding that two staff members stayed with the birds during the storm.
All of storm effort took place in the days leading up to the center’s big 25th anniversary gala, Wild @ Wingswood, on 6-9 p.m. Saturday at the center, located at 4719 U.S. Highway 17, in Awendaw,
The storm also affected pets, both with homes and without.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or ASPCA, were enlisted by South Carolina Emergency Management to conduct field rescues in Beaufort County for pets left behind by evacuees.
“We’ve had more than 200 requests to check on pets by people who evacuated but expected to come back the next day and couldn’t,” said Kelly Krause, an ASPCA spokeswoman based in New York City, adding that the scenario is common in disasters.
Krause said usually staff try to make sure the pets are safe, have food and water, rather than immediately taking them to shelters. The ASPCA has a 13-person team in Beaufort County to respond to the requests, as well as help make repairs to the Beaufort County Animal Control shelter and the Hilton Head Humane Association.