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Animals in War

"The street dogs, howling in terror were the most accurate indicator of an impending air raid on Baghdad"

Less explored issues in the world of animal welfare are brought to the foreground during periods of war.
It begins with their use in combat and search situations around war-torn countries. Neglect, injuries and death in places such as abandoned zoos are also a common concern - at least to those who care about animals amongst the carnage of human war victims. In fact, millions more animals die from the causes of war than humans. For example, in the Afghan war during the 1990's, more than 75,000 animals were lost due to mines - that's over half of all animal livestock in Afghanistan.

In January 2009 a report by Ashraf Helmi on the GulfNews website showed vivid evidence of a massacre by Israeli troops at Gaza zoo. Animals shot at pointblank range, with "no sense of reasoning"

Even bomb sniffer dogs are given no lasting compassionate reprieve when they suffer injuries in war countries. For example, a black Labrador (Hobo) suffered bad injuries to his neck, abdomen and body from artillery shrapnel in July 2011. The dog was patched up and was put back on "duty" to sniff out explosives just ten days later. Ref BBC News:

Then there are the invisible but dramatic effects on wildlife, only realized some time after war when the armies have moved on. Disruption of habitats and migratory routes due to aircraft activity, bombing, ship's sonar and general artillery fire can destroy not only pockets of local wildlife but an entire species forever.

Animals and Landmines

Whether it be peace time or in conflict, animals are suffering horrific deaths and injuries caused by human waged destruction.

We often hear of landmines causing death and severe injury to innocent people, but animals are suffering the same fate ... In fact ten or twenty times more animals are killed and maimed from landmines every single day.
Hundreds of millions of these hidden killers lay usually invisible just underneath earth or foliage - on roadsides, paths fields and scattered around woodlands.
People of wartorn countries are unable to plant their fields or even walk to the clinics or visit friends. Children can't walk to school or play in their neighbourhood.
Animals, both wild and farmed roam free across the danger areas under the constant threat of being blown up.

In fact, the mortality rate of animals in mined areas is so high it has reduced livestock in some countries by half. For example, In the pre "9/11" Afghan war during the 90's, Afghans suffered a total loss of more than 75,000 animals due to mines ... more than 50% of the total number of livestock.

Landmines sit silent and deadly just below the surface in many countries of the world. And in most cases no one knows exactly where these indiscriminately strewn killers are. There are even millions of mines left over from from World War 2. Although slightly easier to detect - because they were made of metal - these 60 year old mines are still taking innocent lives. Modern mines are very hard to find, made of undetectable plastics and alloys. For example in Angola the legacy of a war, which ended in 2002, has left nearly five million hard-to-detect landmines indiscriminately scattered across the country.

The Project Mkono web pages track the gruesome correlation between animals and landmines. The informative site is dedicated to a silverback gorilla killed by a landmine in Rwanda.
Amongst some of the incidents mentioned are eyewitness reports of herds of cows, elephants and numerous other creatures blown to pieces by mines

Not only are animals inadvertent victims of landmines, but there are cases where animals are used as "live triggers" to clear roadsides and fields.
In 1997 a report said that Bosnian locals were letting sheep loose in unsafe areas as a barbaric method of exploding the mines.
In El Salvador, pigs were used to find and detonate mines. (Source: Arana, 1992).
It is reported that, "During Iran's 1980-1988 war with Iraq, entire classes of boys were brought to the front as "scouts" and sent forward over enemy minefields.
Tehran had previously used sheep, but decided even children were to be involved in the war effort." (Source: Chelmminski, 1994. p.29)
In a report on Zimbabwe: "Many people could not return to their villages and farms after their independence. Those who did, pushed their cattle ahead to detonate the mines."

Who is dealing with "humane" landmine clearance?
There is a variety of landmine based charities dealing with various aspects of the problem. The Halo Trust specialize in the removal of the debris of war and have over 4,850 mineclearers in 9 countries. Their operations are always increasing. Adopt-A-Landmine do a similar job and run mine action projects in 6 countries.
There is an element of contention regarding these mine clearing organizations because in some areas they use trained sniffer dogs to detect mines. Although one would assume that technological alternatives must be available as a preference to using dogs, it is argued that perhaps the low mortality rate of sniffer dogs in relation to the many animals (and humans) saved from death and injury may justify the dogs usefulness to save hundreds of other lives.

Animal deaths from mines source: Project Mkono

Animals at Sea

Apart from well documented stories of dolphins being used to aid the discovery and clearance of mines, sea mammals are dying by the hundreds even outside of war torn areas of the world.
It has recently transpired that Naval warships are causing death to hundreds of whales and dolphins worldwide through the use of sonar. Spanish scientists in the Canaries found evidence showing that mammals are dying from decompression: better known to divers as "the Bends". The deaths are linked to underwater sonar, used by the ships to hunt submarines. When the ships trigger the sonar, whales and dolphins appear to become disorientated and subsequently rise to the water surface much too quickly. Some species of whales, known to spend a lot of time in deep sea areas, are being found dead on beaches just hours after naval warships have carried out sonar based manoeuvres in the immediate vicinity.

Animals in the Line of Fire

In Iraq for example, American smart bombs may have been fairly precise in their targets, and although they may take all precautions to avoid hitting schools, hospitals and public areas, do they also consider zoos and other animal environments near their targets as areas to avoid?

Most of us have heard about the atrocities that took place in Kabul Zoo in Afghanistan. Grenades were thrown into cages, and the animals were left in misery.

The Siberian Crane is globally endangered. During the American bombing runs in Afghanistan during 2001/2 the Cranes and tens of thousands of ducks and other birds were disturbed during their migration. Now, entire bird populations have since gone missing across the entire Afghan and Pakistan region, which is a major migratory route for many species.

Looking-Glass Comment

This web retreat is presented through a harmonically aligned philosophy, a part of which describes a principle of natural foresight in human behaviour. Therefore you'll often find comments and articles presented as precursors to events, which ultimately play out as predicted.

The case of animals suffering throughout the 2003 Iraq war is a classic example. Frequent site visitors will be aware of such articles here at the time warning of the potential animal problem long before the war began. The rest of the web has sprouted pockets of media based concern regarding these issues, such as rather irrelevant polls as to whether animals should be used by the military or not. All rather futile and displaced since in a way this is "closing the barn door after the horse has bolted".
Where are these polls and petitions in peacetime? - before a major conflict? It seems that many of these token gestures are created by media publications who are just jumping on the compassion bandwagon. Their polls will disappear as soon as the public loose interest, and the war becomes a thing of the past. However the problem does NOT go away, such as the thousands more landmines and unexploded bombs which now litter the land of Iraq - These will be posing serious threats not only to animals but people for many years to come.

People and the media, latch on to animal suffering only when the humanitarian issues have calmed down. In other words, after the event, when it's usually too late for the animals. Of course, many argue that human welfare comes before animals ... but they are just as much the victims of suffering during a war conflict, and more to the point, the animals continue to suffer long after... and above all, it's not their war.
For example, how can a neglected zoo animal get its food? A caged animal can't even attempt to try to find food for itself. Why do occupying armies not provide animal handlers, advisors and vets as part of their war engagements? Humans cause these crazy wars, so why create even more layers of suffering for other species of earth-life?

One comment on the GulfNews website about the 2009 massacre at Gaza Zoo points out the appalling conditions the animals were kept in even prior to the attack, saying that "the animals were better off dead" and that "animal rights would go spare". It's certainly true that the zoo conditions looked terrible anyway, but during the aftermath of such a grotesque action, such sanctimonious comments are inappropriate.
There is no doubt that zoos and war zones can never mix, but when a community is trying to bring some semblance of enjoyment within a place of high tension, they grab at whatever idea they think will raise the community spirits. A zoo often seems to be high on the agenda. Authorities in high war-risk areas should recognize that an animal enclosure is not the answer, because every time fighting hits the community, the animals always suffer ... and the resulting aftermath brings down the community spirit even more than ever.

Before any war activity, surely imminent action should be "legally" taken to at least ensure the welfare of caged animals. How about an International law (i.e. an extension of the Geneva convention) which would state that all caged animals at risk of suffering through impending war activity should be removed to safe areas, where they can be looked after throughout the conflict? ... (now that's a petition we should all be signing)

Footnote on Iraq War

By 2005 it had become common practice for insurgents in Iraq to strap bombs to dogs and blow them up as convoys pass by.
Donkeys pulling carts of explosives are also being used for similar purposes.

Sign a Petition to Protect Zoo Animals in War Zones

Curtis Christopher Comer has followed up our thoughts of a petition (mentioned above) to get the Geneva Convention extended to include the protection of caged animals during war. You can find his petition here ... where there are also more details about the suffering of animals in war zones.


Tell Looking-Glass about your animals affected by war

Looking-Glass and VeggieGlobal would like to receive information and your experiences about animals affected by war conflicts.
Please contact us


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