Part of the work of Animal Ethics during the last few years has been to foster academic work about the study of wild animal suffering and the ways to help the animals.
One of the researchers whose postdoc research we’ve been supporting is Jara Gutiérrez, a biologist who also has a PhD in animal welfare science. Last year we published a blog post with the results of her work. Now she and her professor Javier de Miguel, from the Autonomous University of Madrid, have recently published an article resulting from this work in the European Journal of Ecology. The article focuses on the effects of wildfires on animals and the ways to reduce such harms. This paper can inform future work to design protocols and policies that will help animals affected by fires.
The paper has been published and can be openly accessed here:
Below is the abstract of the paper:
Animals living in the wild are exposed to numerous challenges, such as fires. Depending on the characteristics of fire, habitat and taxa affected, fires can cause pain, negative experiences, suffering, and death in individual animals. The impacts of fire have been studied in different branches of ecology, but studies of its effects on the welfare of individual animals remain scarce. The current review aims to synthesize a sample of relevant aspects regarding fire’s negative effects on wild animals. We mainly focus on the immediate impacts of fire on individuals. How animals respond to fire depends on many factors including their life history, evolutionary adaptations to fire, and individual stress coping styles, in addition to the characteristics of the fire.
The fundamentals of carrying out future work for animal rescue and prevention of animal harms in fires were also explored. Fires may increase the risk of injury, disease, stress, and mortality for animals living in the wild. Although animal taxa differ significantly from each other, a wide variety of vertebrate species (and perhaps some invertebrates) are capable of experiencing both physical and emotional pain, engaging in substantive relationships, and executing cognitively complex tasks. The consequences of fires can involve suffering, psychological damage, negative experiences, discomfort and pain, and long-term detrimental consequences.
Wild animals can benefit from effective rescue, rehabilitation, and release during fires, and post-release monitoring must accurately evaluate their outcome success. The resulting information can be used to educate veterinarians, rehabilitators, and the public in the prevention of the poor welfare and deaths of as many animals as possible in future fire events, which ultimately benefits animal welfare. This review provides a better understanding of how fire compromises animal welfare, providing an example of how to use the knowledge gathered in animal ecology to examine the welfare of wild animals. It can help raise concern for the situation of wild animals as individuals, and to develop the field of welfare biology, by identifying promising future lines of research.
A much longer literature review (93 pages) expanding on the contents of this paper was published by Animal Ethics last year. You can read it and download it here:
Other pieces addressing the impacts that fires have on animals and how they can be helped include the following:
By supporting others who author publications on this topic, we spread concern about the ways to help wild animals. We also hope their publications will foster more scientific work, so eventually the body of work will form the basis of policies to help animals. In addition, this can help to spread concern and scientific attention about wild animal suffering in general.