Helping animals in fires and natural disasters

Helping animals in fires and natural disasters

This text is about helping animals affected by fires and other natural disasters. It will show examples of how it is possible to help both animals in captivity and living in the wild. For more information, see animals in natural disasters.

Animals living in the wild are vulnerable to natural disasters, just as humans and domesticated animals are. They may be burned by fires; washed away or drowned by floods; battered by hurricanes; or buried by landslides, avalanches and earthquakes. Many animals die in such natural disasters. In many cases, it would be possible to save them, if only humans chose to do so. However the plight of animals in the wild affected by natural disasters is generally ignored. Fortunately though, this isn’t always the case. The examples below describe cases in which human beings have helped animals, both domesticated and those living in the wild, when they were at risk from natural disasters. These cases demonstrate that humans are both willing and able to help animals threatened by natural disasters. Furthermore, there are some signs that the general public is showing more concern about the suffering of animals in the wild in natural disasters.

Animals in fires

Fires occur regularly in nature. Some are started by human beings, either accidentally or deliberately. Others have natural causes. Fires can start naturally due to lightning, volcanoes, and earthquakes. Of course, how a fire starts is beside the point – if we care about nonhuman animals, our primary concern is helping to prevent the suffering and death of animals caught up in the fire. It is sometimes possible to help these animals, and in fact there are many cases in which this has already been done. Many people think that animals should be rescued if they are caught in fires. See here and here for examples of firefighters using mouth-to-snout resuscitation to save the lives of dogs rescued from house fires.

The video below shows firefighters in Russia working to revive a cat caught up in an apartment fire. She had inhaled a great deal of smoke and wasn’t breathing. The firefighters gave her oxygen and chest compressions. The cat survived.

There have also been cases in which wild animals have been helped or rescued from fires or the effects of fire. This baby deer was found alone in the middle of a wild brush fire in the Florida Keys. A firefighter saw him running wildly through the brush. In his panic, the deer ran into an area totally engulfed by the fire. The firefighter followed the deer and rescued him from the flames. She found him hiding under a burning bush, where he almost certainly would have died without her help. She reached into the burning bush, singeing her eyelashes, and scooped the terrified fawn into her arms. Rescue workers gave the fawn oxygen and water, and wrapped him in a sheet until the fire was brought under control. He was uninjured, and returned to his home.

Koalas are very vulnerable to wildfires. They are slow moving, so they cannot effectively flee from fires. They also have poor immune systems, which means that if they sustain burn injuries, they are likely to die from infection. Furthermore, their natural habitat is in eucalyptus trees, which are highly flammable. Hundreds of koalas die in Australian wildfires every year.1 These koalas were rescued from a bushfire in South Australia. Badly injured, they were airlifted to Adelaide, where their burns were treated. The video below shows koalas being treated for their injuries and a man giving water to an injured koala after a wildfire.

Wildfires in Bolivia in 2019 have killed many animals, including armadillos, tapirs, jaguars, and parrots.2 Volunteers have been attempting to rescue and assist animals injured by the fires. This video shows the volunteers at work, and the devastation caused by the fires. Animals rescued include a two day old wild pig whose mother was killed in the fire; a hawk suffering from smoke inhalation; an armadillo blinded by the fire, as well as a tortoise and a boa constrictor.

It’s not only firefighters who have rescued wild animals from fire. The video below shows a passing motorist pulling over to rescue a wild rabbit who had run into the burning bushes at the roadside.

It’s also possible to help animals in the wild in simpler ways. For example, during the 2019 wildfires in Southern Australia, Wildcare Australia Inc. (an organization that rescues and rehabilitates wild animals) encouraged people living in the affected areas to leave out bowls of water for wild animals to have access to.3 It’s a small effort for humans, but to an injured and disoriented animal, it might be the difference between life and death. For further information about what you can do to help animals in disaster situations, see this Disaster FAQ.

Animals in floods

As Weather conditions and animals explains, animals are often gravely affected by climatic phenomena. Massive numbers of animals face death from exposure, by drowning, or due to starvation or thirst resulting from harsh weather conditions. Animals in natural disasters describes this in detail. Floods can be caused by excessive rainfall, rivers overflowing their banks, melting snow and ice, broken dams, and by hurricanes and tsunamis. Like humans, animals are vulnerable to flooding. Fortunately, however, there have been many cases in which animals have been saved from floods.

Kaziranga National Park in India is located in the Assam region, which is prone to regular severe flooding. The region is surrounded by hills, so when there is heavy rainfall, it rushes down the hills, flooding the plains including the national park. Floods in 2019 killed around 200 animals, including deers, rhinos, buffaloes, boars, porcupines, and an elephant. Rescue workers in boats and all-terrain vehicles managed to rescue 64 animals from the floods, including deers, rhinos, reptiles, and birds.4 The video below shows rescue workers saving a baby rhino from drowning.

A more systematic intervention was the construction of 33 artificial highlands within the park. These areas of high land have allowed animals to more easily find refuge from the rising waters. The construction of the highlands is credited with reducing the death toll from the annual floods: floods in 2017 killed over 400 animals, compared to around 200 in 2019.5

Torrential rainfall caused extensive flooding in Arlington county in Virginia in 2019, killing many animals. Because of the time of year, many wild animals were orphaned by the storm as they were thrown from their nests or separated from their parents by the floodwaters. Rescue workers with the Animal Welfare League of Arlington were able to save dozens of animals, including deers and dozens of orphaned birds and squirrels. The rescued animals were either released after basic treatment or they were passed on to a wildlife rehabilitation organization for longer term care.6

Flash flooding in Mississippi in 2016 put many animals at risk of drowning. Two brothers noticed animals escaping from the flooded woods into a dry pasture in front of their house. They had a small boat and decided to use it to rescue animals trapped by the floods. Driving across flooded fields to the woods, they rescued several mice, shrews, and rabbits. Once in the woods, they got into the small boat and searched for animals trapped by the rising waters. They managed to rescue several opossums and armadillos, releasing them after the flood waters began to subside.7 Their story shows that it is perfectly possible for just a couple of people to rescue animals in difficulty. The video below shows them at work.

The video below shows a man wading into floodwaters in Odessa to rescue a drowning puppy. After the rescue, the man adopted the puppy and named her Lucky.

Animals in other natural disasters

Animals have been saved from natural disasters of many kinds, such as hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, landslides, avalanches, and volcanoes. Below are just a few examples.

Hurricanes are devastating for animals living in the wild. Unlike human beings and domesticated animals, animals in the wild generally don’t have shelter sufficient to cope with the impact of a hurricane. Hurricane Dorian in 2019 was the most powerful ever to hit the Bahamas, with winds of up to 295 km per hour. It also made landfall in parts of the eastern United States. In Walterboro, South Carolina, an animal sanctuary cared for hundreds of animals injured, displaced, orphaned, or otherwise impacted by the hurricane. Injuries include broken legs, head trauma, and pulmonary aspiration requiring immediate antibiotic treatment. The video below is a news report on the activities of the sanctuary in the aftermath of hurricane Dorian.

Animals are affected by earthquakes too. Like humans, they can be injured by falling debris, or they can become buried under rubble. They can also become sick if it is difficult for them to find clean water and food. An earthquake in Ecuador in 2016 left thousands of animals injured, trapped under rubble, sick, orphaned, or starving. World Animal Protection provided medical care and food to almost 4,000 animals in the aftermath of the earthquake. Thousands of animals were rescued and cared for after a 2017 earthquake in Mexico. The video below shows firefighters working to rescue cats and dogs trapped under rubble after a powerful earthquake in Italy in 2016.

Wild animals are also affected by earthquakes. The 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan left thousands of animals without homes. Coastguards rescued a dog who had survived the tsunami and spent three weeks adrift on the floating debris of a destroyed house. The video below shows the rescue.

The 2018 tsunami in Indonesia washed sea turtles onto the shore, leaving some stranded up to a kilometer from the sea. Rescue workers created makeshift stretchers to carry them back to the sea.

An avalanche in Italy in 2017 buried a hotel under thousands of tons of snow. Three puppies were among those trapped inside the destroyed hotel. Firefighters entered the hotel through narrow shafts and rescued the puppies.

Volcanic eruptions kill animals directly by burying them in lava and ash, and can harm animals caught in the vicinity. They can be burned by falling ash, or they can become sick by ingesting ash (usually by eating ash covered grass) or by inhaling it. After a 2018 eruption in the Philippines many animals were at risk of injury, sickness, hunger or death. World Animal Protection evacuated terrestrial animals from dangerous areas, and provided food and medical treatment to those who required it.8 The Humane Society provided similar aid to animals after a volcanic eruption in Guatemala in 2018. Marine animals are also affected by eruptions, as lava sheds small particles after it comes into contact with water, which are harmful to fishes with gills. Lava flowing into water can also increase acidity levels which may be harmful to marine animals in the region. Flowing lava can also affect the environment that marine animals depend on, for example by flowing over tide pools and hot springs.9 Larger marine animals like sea turtles can be spotted from the air and rescued, or rescued from nearby shores that have not yet been affected by the eruption.

The examples above indicate that humans are able to rescue animals in the wild from a range of natural disasters, disasters which they often cannot cope with without our help. However, for the most part, our rescues focus on domesticated animals rather than on those living in the wild. If we reject speciesism then we must expand our rescue plans to include more animals living in the wild. This also means coming up with new ways of rescuing animals – for example, how do we rescue fishes in a lake or tide pool that is in danger of being covered over or boiled by lava? How do we protect animals from earthquakes, which give little to no warning beforehand? Two things are required: firstly we must change our speciesist view of animals, so that we can recognize that animals in the wild have a strong claim to be rescued from natural disasters, and secondly we must develop our technology and rescue strategies so that we are capable of effective rescues in difficult circumstances.

For more information on ways in which we can help animals see our page on helping animals in the wild. One way we can help is by rescuing trapped animals.

Further readings

Anderson, A. & Anderson, L. (2006) Rescued: Saving animals from disaster, New World Library: Novato.

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.

Chadwin, R. (2017) “Evacuation of pets during disasters: A public health intervention to increase resilience”, American Journal of Public Health, 107, pp. 1413-1417 [accessed on 2 December 2019].

Faria, C. & Paez, E. (2015) “Animals in need: The problem of wild animal suffering and intervention in nature”, Relations: Beyond Anthropocentrism, 3 (1), pp. 7-13 [accessed on 6 November 2015].

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) (2008) “Preparing your pets for emergencies makes sense. Get ready now”, [accessed on 28 August 2018].

Hunt, M. G.; Bogue, K. & Rohrbaugh, N. (2012) “Pet ownership and evacuation prior to Hurricane Irene”, Animals, 2, pp. 529-539 [accessed on 24 September 2019].

Irvine, L. (2006) “Animals in disasters: Issues for animal liberation activism and policy”, Animal Liberation Philosophy and Policy Journal, 4 (1) [accessed on 13 November 2019].

Kirkwood, J. K.; Sainsbury, A. W. & Bennett, P. M. (1994) “The welfare of free-living wild animals: Methods of assessment”, Animal Welfare, 3, pp. 257-273.

Nolen, R. S. (2006) “Congress orders disaster planners to account for pets”,, November 01 [accessed on 2 December 2019].

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

White, S. (2012) “Companion animals, natural disasters and the law: An Australian perspective”, Animals, 2, pp. 380-394 [accessed on 24 October 2019].


1 Koala Info (2019) “Koalas and Australia’s bushfires”, [accessed on 13 September 2019].

2 Yale Environment 360 (2019) “Wildfires in Bolivia have killed an estimated 2 million animals so far this year”, Yale Environment 360, October 1 [ accessed on 15 October 2019].

3 Gerova, V. (2019) “Koala mum and joey rescued as fires tear through bushland”, 10 Daily, 07 Sep.

4 Guha, N. & Ghosh, S. (2019) “Wildlife and people work together during Assam’s annual tryst with floods”, Mongabay, 23 July [accessed on 16 September 2019].

5 Ibid.

6 Airey (2019) “Wild animals, pets rescued during the flood”, ARLnow, July 26 [accessed on 21 September 2019].

7 Akande, Z. (2016) “Man dives into flash flood, fills his boat up with animals”, The Dodo, 03/11/2016 [accessed on 21 September 2019].

8 World Animal Protection (2018) “Rescuing burnt and injured animals in the Philippines after Mayon Volcano eruption”,, 31 January [accessed on 2 October 2019].

9 Shen, M. (2018) “Hell on Earth! Hawaii volcano eruptions set the sky on fire as it’s revealed the impact of the disaster will affect marine and wildlife for decades”, Daily Mail, 9 June [accessed on 2 October 2019].