Biodiversity. Wild animals hit hard by heat wave and drought

With good reason: with a rainfall deficit of 45%, the spring of 2022 was the driest since 1959. The aquifers could not be properly recharged, and some French freshwater streams are thus at unusually low levels, or even completely dry, forcing the animals to venture elsewhere to drinking. “The fauna can travel many kilometers in search of a puddle or pond and die of exhaustion,” notes the League for the Protection of Birds (LPO) in a press release about the heat wave.

In addition, “the lack of water has consequences for the vegetation and can affect herbivores, such as deer, which feed mainly on buds”, notes Alexandre Lasnel. “As the production of buds is lower, food availability is reduced” for these deer, he adds.

“The temperature can exceed 50°C in the nests”

Birds are among the animals most affected by high heat, emphasizes the Bird Protection Association, which claims to have welcomed many birds in recent weeks due to the heat wave. In particular, “individuals still in the nest, which are among the hardest hit”, explains Anne-Laure Dugué, head of the Wildlife in Need program at the LPO.

In our care centers, the species that come in a lot are swallows or swallows, because they breed under roofs, in small cavities. If it is over 40°C outside, the temperature can exceed 50°C in the nest. So young people tend to move towards the edge to get some fresh air outside and fall. Unfortunately they are not ready to fly…

Anne-Laure Dugue

Many other associations confirm this observation. The Goupil Connexion, which raises public awareness of wildlife in Hérault and Gard, recently sounded the alarm about the mortality of swallows in these two departments, according to France Bleu. In the Rhône, the wildlife care center L’Hirondelle in Saint-Forgeux claims to have “broken records in terms of reception” in the last month of June.

But the high temperatures will also affect small mammals, the LPO notes in a press release, especially along roads “which can constitute very important travel corridors for small fauna”. “Some species do not hesitate to cross the road. Unfortunately, a temperature of 30°C in the air during a heat wave leads to overheating of the bitumen, which can easily reach 60°C. At this temperature, contact for more than 60 seconds results in significant burns on the skin,” laments the association in a press release.

Faced with this difficult situation, associations are even pleading for a postponement of hunting after this sensitive period for animals. This is especially the case with the Brigitte Bardot Foundation, which wrote an open letter to the Minister of Ecological Transition, Christophe Bechu, asking for “a truce for the animals”. The Vosges association Oiseaux-Nature is asking for a suspension in the department of stalking approved since the beginning of June.

How do you help animals?

There are several solutions to help wildlife victims of heat and drought, especially if you live in the countryside. The first: give them something to drink while taking certain precautions, recalls Anne-Laure Duguet:

The best thing to do is to install water containers in the shade, shallow – 3 to 4 cm – and to change the water regularly to keep the temperature moderate and prevent the spread of disease. You can also put a stone in the middle of the bowl to prevent animals, such as hedgehogs, from drowning. We also encourage people to close their open water collectors, which causes drowning.

“It is also advisable not to cut down your trees, and to have bushes and hedges in which the birds can find shade,” adds Anne-Laure Duguet from the LPO.

As for food, however, specialists advise to let wild animals fend for themselves, as feeding can prove more counterproductive than effective. “The feed is not necessarily suitable, you can risk indigestion and, above all, it can confine animals to places where they don’t need to be,” clarifies Alexandre Lasnel from OFB.

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