Hunger lines and danger to life: Animals suffer considerably from drought

The heat and lack of precipitation are not good for many animals.

Hunger lines and danger to life: Animals suffer considerably from drought

The heat and lack of precipitation are not good for many animals. But not everyone needs human help in this situation. However, there are some that are particularly at risk that you might not suspect.

Animals also suffer from drought and heat. "We are in the midst of climate change, and the persistently high temperatures are affecting people and animals alike," says Hester Pommerening from the German Animal Welfare Association. Humans would have to help the animals cope by providing enough water and shade. According to the animal rights organization PETA, wild animals are often better able to cope with extreme weather than animals that are dependent on humans. "Deer, wild boar and foxes usually know enough water sources and reduce their activity," explains Peter Höffken from PETA.

According to the German Wildlife Foundation, walkers should therefore not give water to animals in the forest. "Wild animals have been used to extreme situations for centuries and have developed strategies to get by at times with little water," says Jenifer Calvi, the foundation's wildlife expert. For example, deer absorb water largely through plant food. Forest visitors should generally be considerate of forest animals on hot days, because they are forced to be in "water-saving mode". "Each escape costs them energy, which they urgently need now," said Calvi.

According to the Nature Conservation Union (NABU), the situation is particularly dangerous for amphibians that spawned late in May and June. These include tree frogs, yellow-bellied toads, and natterjack and green toads. Their tadpoles dry up with the waters, as NABU expert Hubert Laufer explains. Artificial ponds in particular are currently drying up. According to PETA, fish, frogs and salamanders are affected. Together with the authorities, action must be taken quickly to save the animals, for example by relocating or filling up the water. Oxygen pumps often have to save the animals from suffocation.

Birds, meanwhile, are switching to gasping: blackbirds or carrion crows often sit with their beaks wide open in the heat and breathe in and out rapidly, similar to panting dogs. This so-called throat bag panting serves to dissipate heat. Just like humans, birds need more water in the summer. That's why bird expert Stefan Bosch from NABU advises setting up bird baths in the garden, even if it's just a large flowerpot saucer with a stone as a landing place. Bosch adds: "It is important to regularly fill and clean bird baths with fresh water." Otherwise pathogens are passed on.

Water bowls also help hedgehogs. NABU is receiving more and more reports of hedgehogs looking for food in the garden during the day because they can't find enough at night. Earthworms and ground beetle larvae - favorite foods of the usually nocturnal animals - have retreated to deeper soil layers. The season of the snails, which hedgehogs make do with in distress, is also over. More and more spiny animals develop a so-called hunger line behind the head, which indicates malnutrition.

The water requirement of sheep, cattle and horses on the pasture is currently greatly increased - twice as high for sheep as with more moderate temperatures. They often do not have the legally required shelter and only have an inadequate water supply, PETA's Höffken complains. Take Kirchheim near Stuttgart, for example: 4 out of 30 sheep in a flock died of thirst there in June. The police report said: "The herd was in a fenced field without any shade or water supply." Compassionate construction workers put things right for a short time. They drove to the animals with a wheel loader, the shovel of which was filled with water, and quenched their thirst.

Because dogs cannot sweat, they require special consideration. A hot car can be a death trap for a dog. The temperature in the vehicle rises to 50 degrees in a very short time. "In the worst case, a lack of oxygen, nausea and circulatory problems can lead to the death of the animal," says animal rights activist Pommerening.

From the point of view of animal rights activists, the high temperatures exacerbate the misery of transport animals. According to PETA, pigs and cattle are fighting for their lives in overcrowded vehicles in the intense heat. In Germany, transports can take a maximum of 4.5 hours at temperatures of up to 30 degrees. For transports in the EU, cattle only have to leave the truck for the first time after 29 hours.

According to zoos like the Wilhelma in Stuttgart, many zoo animals can cope well with heat waves. "Many come from regions with tropical temperatures," says zoo spokesman Harald Knitter, referring to the lions, antelopes, giraffes and great apes. Attempts are also being made to cool the animals down. "Emus love it when you hose them down with water". Even elephants were happy about showers.

The Tiergarten in Karlsruhe relies on ice bombs. For the two polar bears, fish and vegetables are deep-frozen in large tubs and then thrown into the water basin. In addition to cooling down, the goal is to keep Lloyd and Charlotte busy. The Karlsruhe elephants also have to uncover the delicacies frozen in ice bombs. Meanwhile, the big cats can lick the blood ice.

(This article was first published on Monday, August 22, 2022.)

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