Texas Drought: People and Animals in 100 Degree Heat

Southwest suffers through hottest summer since 1951.

HOUSTON, Sept. 2, 2011 — -- Coyotes are stealing watermelons from backyard gardens, bees are attacking joggers trying to quench their thirst from drinking fountains, fighting for precious drops of water.

Texas state officials are planning now how to evacuate several endangered species at risk because of the record drought. The state is home to 86 threatened species.

Parched skies and relentless 100 degree heat are turning this summer into one of the worst in history here. Joggers run in the early morning before the heat intensifies; people working in downtown Houston seek shelter in the city's underground tunnel system rather than venturing out on the scorched city sidewalks. Football players practice in the morning to beat the heat, and children spend recess in air conditioned gyms at school.

The heat has driven wildlife into the open -- one homeowner southwest of Houston, who was wondering what was happening to his disappearing watermelon crop, set up a camera, and snapped a photo of a coyote in his backyard, stealing a watermelon.

Lynn Cuny is the director of the Wildlife Rescue Center in Kendalia, near San Antonio. Her group is running rescue services around the clock -- at last count she had 81 baby deer in her sanctuary.

Her advice to homeowners encountering wildlife in their backyards: "Please be patient, these animals are desperate for water and often backyards are the only source."

Deer are roaming in the middle of the day down Texas roads, and calls are coming in to animal control centers about raccoons, feral hogs, and other animals straying into yards in a desperate hunt for water that is not falling from the skies.

A drive past parched river beds illustrates the dilemma facing the biologists at Texas Parks and Wildlife.

The Comal and San Marcos springs are the largest in Texas and contain the only remaining populations of two small fish, the fountain darter and the San Marcos gambusia. There are also the Texas blind salamander; the San Marcos salamander; the Comal Springs Riffle beetle; the Comal Springs Dryopid beetle, the Peck's cave amphipod, an invertebrate; and Texas wild-rice.

If water levels drop another 50 percent, then volunteers will use nets to scoop up as many fish as possible to transfer to a hatchery near San Marcos, to preserve them.

Droughts aren't new in Texas -- one in the 1950's set records -- but this one could beat that. Rain was so rare back then that when it finally rained in West Texas on April 25, 1951, the event was noted on the sidewalk in front of the courthouse in San Angelo.

Hopes for a while were pinned on Tropical Storm Lee, out in the Gulf of Mexico. People here were praying it would set its sights on Texas.

But no luck. The National Hurricane Center said Friday it would instead drown Louisiana.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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