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ROSWELL: What's happening to Georgia's animals? | News

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ROSWELL: What's happening to Georgia's animals?
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ROSWELL, Ga. - At the Chattahoochee Nature Center, Kathryn Dudeck mists a barn owl to keep it cool.

They put frozen bottles of water in a pool for the possums. 

The heat has decreased their appetites, so the staff supplements their diets with popsicles, to keep them cool, and keep them fed.

Even the beaver gets honeydew and watermelon. 

But it's not keeping animals cool that worries the center, it's what brings them there in the first place.

PHOTO GALLERY: What's happening to Georgia's animals?

"In most years we get young birds in that are emaciated or dehydrated," Dudeck said. "We're getting adult birds in that way, ones that have been out in the wild for four-to-five years and have had plenty of opportunity to hunt. But their prey items just aren't as numerous."

The summer heat has created a surge of abandoned animals, many of whom simply cannot find enough to eat, wildlife experts say.

"It's just pitiful. The babies are skinny little things," Rhonda Woods who is licensed to take care of abandoned rabbits said. "It takes them twice as long to get back up to care."

The young rabbits people bring to her Dacula home are more often than not malnourished, Woods believes, because their mothers cannot produce enough milk for them in the summer heat. Rabbits also relish weeds and dandelions, many of which are wilting in the sun or are killed off by commercial yard companies.

"I have never seen anything of this magnitude before," Elizabeth Hartman said.

The baby and young raccoons and foxes people find are dehydrated and underfed, but physically have nothing else wrong with them. Hartman said they do not have enough food and water sources, and the heat is simply overwhelming them.

She wrote in her blog Tails of the Hart,

On Friday, I got a call about an abandoned red fox kit. When I picked her up, I was about 80% sure that she wasn't going to make it - she was severely dehydrated and emaciated, to the point where you could feel every bone in her body. Animals that show anything above 15% dehydration are most likely going to die.

That was April. The fox has survived.

It comes at a personal cost. Hartman works by day in software at a Buckhead company. But when she gets home she spends three-to-four hours tending to the raccoons she rehabilitates, and spends some $5,000 of her own money. It is hard for her to turn them away.

The caretakers say there are a lot of reasons for the increase.

The Chattahoochee Nature Center's birds of prey are eating 10 percent less because of the heat. So are the opossums. But for many other animals it's simply a question of supply.

Blackberries are not blooming as quickly in the scorching sun, a favorite of many reptiles. Tortoises showing up to the Nature Center are testing higher than normal for lawn chemicals, which Dudeck says is a byproduct of people trying to keep their lawns alive.

It's a similiar story across the country. NBC News' Janet Shamlian reported In Texas, wild fawns have been abandoned by mothers too dehydrated to produce milk.

Hartman cared for 132 raccoons last year. She has already reached this number this year, and will likely take in 200 by year's end.

She releases the babies into the wild of north Georgia when they are old enough to fend for themselves, but they are likely to find a difficult environment when they get there.

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