Two employees, a civic service and many volunteers are needed to run the Wildlife Care Center, located near Grasse, in the Alpes-Maritimes. Animals are strongly impacted by the drought.
“We get a lot of baby hedgehogs. In general, the mothers went out to fetch water but, due to the drought, they went further and did not return.“, explains Jennifer Jolicard, director of the Saint-Cézaire-sur-Siagne Wildlife Care Center, while hydrating a choupisson – that’s their real name – using a syringe.
“After a while, the babies are hungry and come out on their own to try to find food, but they are not yet independent, some have not even opened their eyes yet”she says, pointing to a two-week-old hedgehog.
Tiny, the creature fits in the palm of his hand.
It is often private individuals, police or municipal agents who bring these animals in bad shape to the care centre. Before transporting them, it is necessary to check that the mother is not nearby but then you have to act quickly.
If they are not found after three days, they may die,
warns the caretaker.
The phenomenon recurs every summer but right now, when July was the hottest on record on the Côte d’Azur, the centre, which opened last December, is running at full speed.
The phone doesn’t stop ringing. “We had two weeks where the center – which can accommodate up to 250 animals – was almost fullsays Jennifer Jolicard. We mobilized as many volunteers as possible and now things have calmed down a bit.“, she adds.
“But I know that if for two days it is 40 degrees, I have 150 swifts again“, she warns.
At the moment, the center hosts 90 birds of this species, close to the swallow. The floor is reserved for them. They are placed in boxes, according to their level of recovery. The “skinny” are fed by volunteers using tweezers.
Often it is birds that have fallen from the nest because they have placed themselves too close to the edge, to try to capture the coolness.
But this is not the only reason for their condition. “Beyond the fact that they are hot, the whole ecosystem is impacted“, explains Hélène Bolaris, president of the association PACA for tomorrow which founded the center.
Indeed, swallows and swifts build their nests out of mud. But with an average temperature of 27 degrees in July… “go find mud in the city center of Nice“, jokes Jennifer Jolicard.
Nests in poor condition can crack, causing them to fall.
These birds, which feed mainly on insects, also have trouble finding food: “insects need a humid environment to reproduce, so if there is no more water, they do not reproduce“, explains the director of the center.
The centre’s volunteers also recovered tarmac swifts. The heat had melted the tar on the roads, thus weakening their plumage.
For these injured or distressed animals, the risk also comes from those who recover them and, by wanting to do the right thing, make the situation worse. “We must not transfer on the animal the fears that we would have for humans“, insists Hélène Bolaris.
The two caretakers have lost count of the times they have found animals in hypothermia because the people who had picked them up made them take a cold shower, believing to refresh them.
The normal temperature of a bird is higher than that of a human. If you touch them and you have the impression that they are fresh, in fact, they are frozen!
In the same way, you have to be very careful if you try to hydrate them with a pipette. “I often say, imagine that for the animal we are a giant of twelve meters! So when we take them in our hand to make them drink, what do they do? They hyperventilate“, says the director of the center, a former veterinarian. The risk is that the water does not pass through the throat but goes directly into the lungs, which are very open. Then it is drowning…
So first reflex: call the center for advice before feeding or hydrating them. “Animals have 24 hours of possible survival without eating or drinking“, recalls Hélène Bolaris.
The center is open 7 days a week, even on public holidays, and can be reached by telephone from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. 04 89 64 00 25.