Rescuing trapped animals

Animals often suffer accidents in the wild. For instance, they may become trapped and face painful, lingering deaths. In many cases, it can be relatively easy to rescue them. Deers and elks, for example, can get trapped in ice lakes. Unable to free themselves, they may suffer horrendously until they die due to hypothermia, shock, organ failure, exhaustion, drowning, starvation, being eaten by predators, or as a consequence of injuries they incur as they struggle to break free. Many cases have been documented of rescues of animals from these kinds of situations, such as the following:

Deer rescued from middle of frozen lake in Canada

Firefighters rescue deer from frozen lake

Mule deer rescued from frozen lake

Helicopter pilot saves deer and fawn stuck on frozen ice


Other animals in cold latitudes may end up being lost on pieces of ice floating around far from the coast, stranded until the ice melts and they drown or die of hypothermia in the freezing waters. Sometimes in these situations animals can be helped, such as in this case:

There are documented cases of rescues of animals trapped in mud ponds. This happens especially to big animals such as elephants. In those situations they could drown or be slowly eaten alive by other animals. One notorious case has been documented in which a baby elephant was eaten alive by hyenas in a situation in which it would have been perfectly feasible to save the elephant. There are many examples of cases in which the animals were rescued:

Saved from a muddy grave: baby elephant and its mother pulled from lagoon

Birds, even those who can fly, can become trapped in mud. But, again, they can often be saved:

10 year old kid saves a desert bird from drowning

There are many other situations in which animals can become trapped. In some cases, this may mean life or death for these animals:1

Baby elephant trapped in Indian well is saved

Kenyan baby elephant saved from well

Woman untangles dying heron from fishing line

Squirrel rescued from pond by three fire engines

Man untangles chipmunk caught on a fence

Firefighters rescue a trapped seagull

Animal advocates rescue flying foxes off barbed wire fence

Man rescues trapped horse in the snow

Cetacea such as dolphins or whales can sometimes become disorientated and end up stranded on beaches. In such situations it’s almost inevitable that the animals will die. Moreover, traditionally, when they were trapped in this way without any possible means of defending themselves, humans would often hack them to pieces for their flesh and blubber. Recently, however, attitudes towards cetacea have changed, and in some cases human beings do help them. And, although not always, we sometimes succeed in saving their lives. These are some examples of such cases:

22 of 90 stranded whales have died

In other cases, they can become trapped by sea ice, yet have in some cases been rescued:

Canadians rush to save 11 trapped killer whales

On their way Soviet icebreakers free 2 whales off coast of Alaska


Further readings:

Bovenkerk, B.; Stafleu, F.; Tramper, R.; Vorstenbosch, J. & Brom, F. W. A. (2003) “To act or not to act? Sheltering animals from the wild: A pluralistic account of a conflict between animal and environmental ethics”, Ethics, Place and Environment, 6, pp. 13-26.

Dawkins, R. (1995) God’s utility function”, Scientific American, 274 (6), pp. 80-85.

Donaldson, S. & Kymlicka, W. (2011) Zoopolis: A political theory of animal rights, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Faria, C. (2016) Animal ethics goes wild: The problem of wild animal suffering and intervention in nature, PhD thesis, Barcelona: Pompeu Fabra University.

Faria, C. & Paez, E. (2015) “Animals in need: The problem of wild animal suffering and intervention in nature”, Relations: Beyond Anthropocentrism, 3, 7-13.

Hadley, J. (2006) “The duty to aid nonhuman animals in dire need”, Journal of Applied Philosophy, 23, 445-451.

Horta, O. (2013) “Zoopolis, intervention, and the state or nature”, Law, Ethics and Philosophy, 1, pp. 113-125 [accessed on 22 January 2016].

Kirkwood, J. K. & Sainsbury, A. W. (1996) “Ethics of interventions for the welfare of free-living wild animals”, Animal Welfare, 5, 235-243.

Morris, M. C. & Thornhill, R. H. (2006) “Animal liberationist responses to non-anthropogenic animal suffering”, Worldviews, 10, 355-379.

Nussbaum, M. C. (2006) Frontiers of justice: Disability, nationality, species membership, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Sözmen, B. İ. (2013) “Harm in the wild: facing non-human suffering in nature”, Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, 16, pp. 1075-1088.

Tomasik, B. (2014) “The predominance of wild-animal suffering over happiness: An open problem”,Essays on Reducing Suffering, 14/10 [accessed on 3 December 2014].

Torres, M. (2015) “The case for intervention in nature on behalf of animals: A critical review of the main arguments against intervention”, Relations: Beyond Anthropocentrism, 3 (1), pp. 33-49 [accessed on 10 January 2016].


1 It is interesting to note that although when many people think of trapped animals they may think at first about so-called companion animals, we can see that those living in the wild need assistance much more often. And this is so even if we just consider cases in which we can intervene and help. The following link shows this nicely: Suffolk: Livestock tops fire service animal rescue list.

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