Several LSU veterinary students are getting some hands-on experience courtesy of Hurricane Isaac, which threw many baby squirrels and birds from their nests, making them vulnerable to predators and starvation.
At least 120 squirrels, three doves and a tern displaced by the storm were brought to the LSU Veterinary Hospital on Skip Bertman Drive between Wednesday and Friday, said Dr. Javier Nevarez, assistant professor of zoological medicine.
The number is expected to increase during the next few days as residents continue to clean up debris from their yards, Nevarez said.
Four years ago during Hurricane Gustav, the hospital took in about 250 stranded animals because of the storm, he said.
The majority were baby squirrels, which can easily die if they are too young to feed themselves, Nevarez said. Young squirrels also are susceptible to hypothermia from exposure to the wind and rain.
“That’s one of the fastest ways they are killed,” Nevarez said. “Some have to be warmed in an incubator when they get here.”
Most of the squirrels at the hospital Thursday were brought to the facility in shoeboxes lined with bath and kitchen towels.
Staff and veterinary students separated the animals according to their estimated ages and put them in roomy cases equipped with towels and other types of cloth to keep the animals warm.
The younger animals are fed puppy or kitten milk replacer every two hours, said Dr. Jimmy Johnson, zoological medicine intern. The older ones eat a mixture of nuts and seeds that is similar to bird food, he said.
Once the animals are stabilized and can subsist on just the nuts and seeds, they are released, Johnson said. Most squirrels are able to live on their own at about five or six weeks old, he said.
Because of the volume of animals coming into the hospital, veterinary students were asked earlier this week to voluntarily take some of the animals home and nurse them back to health, Nevarez said. Several students “stepped up to the plate,” he said.
First-year veterinary student Brittany Walraven picked up her squirrels Thursday afternoon and said she was happy to do so.
“Why not?” she said, when asked why she volunteered to take them in. “They need help and they’ll give me something fun to do during my study breaks.”
In other storm-affected areas of the state, workers with two national organizations are helping rescue and shelter displaced animals.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals dispatched a team to St. John the Baptist Parish to help the parish animal shelter in LaPlace and the Louisiana State Animal Response Team.
“We have mobilized our team on the ground and will be sending water rescue teams to search door-to-door for displaced or stranded pets and reunite local residents with their animals,” Dr. Dick Green, director of disaster response for the society’s field investigations and response team.
The team also is helping local agencies transport about 100 animals from the parish’s shelter to safety until flooding subsides, Green said.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare has sent teams to Alexandria to help the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry manage an animal shelter housing almost 200 companion animals.
“I know we will be able to help so many animals and the people who trust them to our care during this tragic time in their lives,” said Shannon Walajyts, the fund’s manager of disaster response.