Helping animals in the wild

Helping animals in the wild

There are many ways we can help animals living in the wild and save them from the harms that they face in nature. In the long term, the only way they will eventually get the help they need is by us raising awareness of the plight of wild animals and the discrimination they suffer. But there are helpful things that can be done for them in the short term, too. Some people may want wild animals to be helped yet fear that we lack the knowledge to do it properly, and that we would do more harm than good. Fortunately, though, there are ways we can help animals using our current knowledge. There are already many examples we can draw upon. Many involve helping certain animals individually. Others involve helping large groups of animals, which can be done in scientifically informed ways in order to ensure that no negative consequences occur. Eventually, research on this problem could be established in academia, which could provide us with much better information on the best ways of helping animals living in the wild. Unfortunately, most people are still unaware of the different ways in which animals can be helped and are, in fact, currently being helped.1 We will now see some examples.

Cases of intervention to help animals

Many cases have been recorded in which animals have been helped in nature. Sometimes, small groups of individuals (or even just one person) have made a great difference to some animals by providing them with assistance. In other cases, animals have been helped thanks to the efforts of organizations or governments that have followed policies beneficial to animals, even even though the purpose of such measures was not to help them (for example, vaccinations of wild animals to reduce human health risks). Fortunately, to inform our efforts to help animals living the wild we can learn from these examples and from large amount of associated research.

Some of these efforts only affect small numbers of animals. We may therefore think that they are trivial and should not be taken into account. But they are not trivial, not only because they are obviously very important for the animals concerned, but also because these cases help to spread awareness that we can and should help animals living in nature, as well as showing some of the ways we can. Opening our minds to such possibilities makes it more likely that we will start to give aid to larger numbers of animals and in a greater variety of contexts.

The following are some ways animals in the wild can be helped:

Rescuing trapped and injured 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.

Vaccinating and healing sick animals

Diseases and injuries are another source of misery for nonhuman animals living in the wild. But, fortunately, this is one of the fields in which we currently know of significant ways to help them.

Helping animals in fires and natural disasters

Many animals die in natural disasters and fires. Often it would be possible to save many of them if humans chose to. Until recently, nonhuman animals have been disregarded in rescue plans for natural disasters, but this is now starting to change.

Providing for the basic needs of animals

Some of the main reasons animals die in the wild are weather conditions and lack of food and water. Moreover, during food shortages those who don’t starve to death suffer from malnourishment and hunger, as well as thirst. However, it is possible to build shelters for them which can make a difference between life and death and can prevent significant suffering. It’s sometimes possible to provide animals with food and water, although this needs to be calculated very carefully, as otherwise we may increase, rather than reduce, wild animal suffering.

Caring for orphaned animals

Animals in the wild sometimes lose one or both parents. In such a situation, it’s often unlikely that they will survive. Most will starve to death unless rescued. This is a critical time for us to help these animals by providing care for them to replace the role of lost parents.

Working for a future with fewer harms to wild animals

There would be ways to give them even greater assistance if we had more knowledge and means. For this to be possible, the most important thing is for our societies to care about helping animals in the wild. It is possible that if societies never see helping wild animals as important, the needs of animals in the wild will never be addressed. Advocacy and research to help push society in this direction is therefore incredibly important.

For more information, you can also read the articles in these related sections:

Introduction to wild animal suffering

An introductory text that summarizes the content of this section. You can start here, or read just this text if you’re only going to read one.

Why wild animal suffering matters

Presents the reasons why the interests of animals in the wild matter, and why wild animal suffering is very important.

The situation of animals in the wild

Explains the different threats animals face in the wild, including hostile weather conditions, lack of food and water, disease, injuries due to accidents, conflicts, and psychological suffering.

Welfare biology

Introduces the field of welfare biology, a proposed cross-disciplinary field of study in natural sciences that studies the situation of animals with regards to their wellbeing. Welfare biology would assess the suffering of animals in the wild and the ways to help them.


1 There are also people who are aware that we can help animals in nature but reject the idea that we should. For a view against helping animals and a celebration of suffering in the wild see Rolston III, H. (1992) “Ethical responsibilities toward wildlife”, Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 200, pp. 615-622.