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Texas Drought Takes Its Toll On Wildlife

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Texas Drought Takes Its Toll On Wildlife

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Texas Drought Takes Its Toll On Wildlife

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JOHN BURNETT: This is John Burnett in Austin. The unfolding calamity that is the Texas drought has thrown nature out of balance. Many of the wild things that live in this state are suffering.

Ms. CINDY LOEFFLER (Texas Parks and Wildlife Department): My name is Cindy Loeffler. I'm the water resources branch chief at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

BURNETT: Hers is a sad domain. Sections of major rivers, like the Brazos, the Guadalupe, the Blanco, Llano and Pedernales, have dried up. In many places, Loeffler says, there aren't even mud holes anymore.

Ms. LOEFFLER: The drought is hammering Texas, I think it's safe to say. Usually we don't see impacts to fish and wildlife. They're adapted to hot, dry conditions in Texas. But this year we're seeing impacts.

BURNETT: Starting at the coast, the lack of rain means low-flowing rivers are not putting enough fresh water into coastal estuaries and bays. The resulting hyper-salinity has allowed disease and predators to decimate this year's oyster crop. Moving inland, the brutal heat has dried up puddles, ponds and artesian springs. So the mosquitoes that normally thrive in the Texas summer are noticeably absent in many areas. Though people are glad the mosquitoes are gone, bats depend on them.

Ms. LOEFFLER: Here in Austin, we have the largest urban colony of bats and they have been having to work overtime to find enough to eat, really. And so they've been coming out earlier in the evening; they're out later in the morning.

BURNETT: Across town at the Wildlife Rescue shelter, people are bringing in distressed creatures all day long.

Ms. SUSAN EDWARDS (Manager, Wildlife Rescue): That's our baby squirrel.

BURNETT: Susan Edwards, manager of Wildlife Rescue, stands next to a dozen sickly baby squirrels.

Ms. EDWARDS: The mothers don't even have enough water to make milk. So they're pushing their babies out of the nest sooner, and they have to pretty much give their children up to death, because they cannot survive themself.

BURNETT: There are reports that the same thing is happening to deer does abandoning their fawns to save themselves. The whole food chain is getting disfigured. Plants don't grow normally without rain. The bugs that eat the plants are undernourished, so they don't make a proper meal for insectivores. There are reports that skunks, raccoons and possums that hunt and scavenge at night cannot find enough food and they're being spotted during the day.

Somebody brought this old male possum into Wildlife Rescue rather than watch it die of starvation.

(Soundbite of possum)

BURNETT: Susan Edwards lets a juvenile raccoon cling to her shoulder. Its head seems curiously outsized for its puny body.

(Soundbite of raccoon)

Ms. EDWARDS: This raccoon should at least be double her size. The water sources are so poor, the mother's milk was not, you know, full of the good nutrients it needed to be.

(Soundbite of cicadas)

BURNETT: At the end of a normal summer, this is what it's supposed to sound like outside in the Texas Hill Country. But instead it sounds like this...

(Soundbite of ambient noise)

BURNETT: Even the cicadas have been quieted by the Texas drought, and nobody knows when it will end.

John Burnett, NPR News, Austin.

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