Animals suffer in Midwest floods humans try to help them

July 22, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

ST. LOUIS -- Human beings have not been the only victims of the floods that have swamped much of the Midwest.

Up and down the Mississippi, Illinois and Missouri delta region, wildlife, livestock, pets and even zoo animals have suffered, while farmers, animal lovers and government workers have gone to great lengths to save them.

For the wild animals, the biggest threat, ironically, can come from the existence of the man-made levees that have created the habitats in which they live. The barriers give them a false sense of security. Then, suddenly, the levees burst, trapping the animals as the raging waters rose.

Generally though, wildlife is relatively self-sufficient and moves to higher ground as the water rises.

"Wildlife has a natural instinct for self-preservation," said Mike Schroer of the Missouri Department of Conservation. Domestic animals are far less able to fend for themselves in a crisis. While some pet and livestock owners took advantage of the relatively slow pace of the flood and moved their animals to safety in plenty of time, others were caught off guard by the enormity of the disaster.

When the flood waters chased Joe Czaia out of his farm near the Illinois River town of Nutwood 10 days ago, he was certain his hogs and sheep would stay dry in their barn.

But when the rain kept falling and the river kept rising, he %J realized he would have wet pigs soon unless he worked fast. Because his farmland was already submerged, rescuing the livestock took ingenuity. When the water started seeping into the barn, he borrowed some boat docks from the conservation department, nailed them together and placed a pen on top.

The pigs allowed themselves to be prodded into the floating corral, but the sheep had to be caught one by one and taken out by boat.

Rita Brumm of the Missouri Humane Society, whose representatives have saved 39 animals over the past several days, agreed that rescuing livestock and pets in flooded areas is complicated and time-consuming.

When flash floods swamped the Des Moines water treatment plant with contaminated water 11 days ago, it also deprived the city zoo of fresh water. Almost immediately, bacteria counts rose to dangerous levels for penguins and sea lions.

The National Guard responded with "operation sea lion" and pumped fresh water from huge stainless steel tankers.

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