Armies cause death and suffering to a large number of animals throughout the world. This happens in wars and armed clashes, but it also occurs in times of peace. In some cases, animals are harmed because they are used as military resources. In others, animals are harmed with the weapons used during conflict. This occurs in several different ways.
A large number of nonhuman animals lose their lives in military conflicts due to explosions, fires, chemical weapons, and other weapons used during warfare. This occurs regardless of whether armies deliberately act in a cruel way towards animals, which does happen on occasion.1 Animal deaths due to military weapon use happens mostly in wild areas, but can also occur in urban or rural areas. For example, animals on farms in the middle of warfare zones can die when they are abandoned. During a bombardment, animals confined in zoos can be killed by the bombs, and those kept as “pets” may die because they are abandoned or because their owners have also died.
In certain cases, animals have been the target of armies looking to deprive the opponents against whom they fight of “resources.” In such cases, the armies kill animals who are being exploited or being raised to be exploited.
In other cases, animals die as victims of war weapons even when they are not being used in a war. For example, animals may be used as targets by soldiers testing their weapons. Animals can be victims of shooting practice and maneuvers on both a small scale and when testing large-scale weapons systems. Millions of animals died as a result of outdoor nuclear trials carried out by countries like the United States, France, the USSR, the United Kingdom, and China.
Another example of animal deaths due to military testing is cetaceans who are harmed by military sonars. Many of us have heard about dolphins and whales stranded on beaches. In many cases, this happens because the animals’ sonars are damaged and they lose their orientation because of underwater military testing. An example of this is the use by the US Navy of the “Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System Low Frequency Active” (SURTASS LFAS), used for the detection of submarines, which has been recognized as a cause of very serious harm and potential death to cetaceans.2
Nonhuman animals are also killed as a result of military confrontations that do not occur during the war itself, but may occur before or after the conflict. In some cases, animals die because they are abandoned without food in the place they were taken to during an armed confrontation. In other cases, they die due to mines and other explosives that remain after the war. Sometimes they die instantly, but sometimes their deaths are slow and painful, such as when they are seriously wounded and slowly bleed to death or die from internal injuries. Other animals are not killed but sustain major and permanent injuries such as lost limbs or internal damage from weapons of war.
Animals are also exploited for military experimentation. Armed forces sometimes test new weapons and their effects on living things by attacking animals with them. They may be interested in seeing how the animals’ bodies can resist the damage caused by attacks or extreme physical situations such as those in which soldiers may find themselves. Animals may be used as subjects in surgical experiments by military doctors to explore how weapon wounds can be treated and how they heal. All this is explained in more detail in the section about animal experimentation for military purposes.
In addition to being harmed by the armies’ weapons and being used in military experiments, nonhuman animals are also harmed while being used as resources by armies. In some cases, they have been employed as weapons to attack the enemy. There are a wide variety of ways in which this has happened throughout history:
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2 In 2004 a US district court dismissed the case brought by defenders of the cetaceans to stop the use of sonar on the basis that the cetaceans are not legally recognized as persons. See Cetacean Community vs Bush, 386 F. 3d 1169 (9th cir. 2004), animallaw.info [accessed on 20 January 2014].
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