With this video, we turn to ways of helping animals who live in the wild against the harms described in the previous videos. This video discusses how we can help trapped animals or animals injured in natural disasters. Animals sometimes become trapped (in mud for example) and may eventually die unless freed.
Also available as a chapter of our companion ebook to the video course Introduction to wild animal suffering: A guide to the issues
We will now consider some of the ways to actually help animals in the wild. As we have seen, they often suffer accidents and injuries. They may be burned by wildfires or frozen by sudden frosts; trapped by difficult terrain such as mud ponds or frozen lakes, and face painful, lingering deaths; or they might simply be injured in the normal course of living their lives, just as humans are. Unlike humans, though, animals in the wild rarely have effective help available to them when they endure accidents or injuries. They find themselves almost helpless against the threats they face, such as extreme weather conditions and natural traps. Nevertheless, humans do sometimes manage to rescue injured or trapped animals, even in difficult circumstances.
Large mammals can get trapped in frozen lakes. They may cross the lakes in search of food, only to fall into the water when the ice breaks underneath them. If the ice isn’t solid, then their efforts to get out of the water simply break off more ice, leaving them trapped in the icy water. Unable to free themselves, they may die from hypothermia. Symptoms of hypothermia in mammals include shivering; confusion; lethargy and weakness; reduced heart rate, respiration, and blood pressure; and, eventually, unconsciousness and death. Alternatively, they may die from shock, organ failure, exhaustion, drowning, starvation, being eaten by other animals, or as a consequence of injuries they incur as they struggle to break free. Sometimes even if the ice beneath them doesn’t break, they can lose their footing on the frozen surface. Unable to regain their footing, they can be trapped on the ice, far from land. Many cases have been documented of rescues of animals from these kinds of situations.
Animals in cold climates may become trapped on ice floes and end up floating far from the coast, stranded until the ice melts and they drown or die of hypothermia in the freezing waters. Sometimes it is possible to help them. Whales can become trapped by sea ice too. As the ice thickens around them, whales can be cut off from deeper water. When this happens, they can drown, suffocate, or starve to death. Though rarer than strandings, the rate at which whales become trapped by ice seems to be increasing.1 Rescuing whales trapped by ice is often more difficult than rescuing whales stranded on a beach, though there have been successful rescues involving ice breaking ships,de-icing machines, helicopter rescues, and using chainsaws to keep breathing holes open.
There are documented cases of rescues of animals trapped in mud ponds. This happens most frequently to large animals such as elephants. Elephants frequently bathe in mud ponds in order to protect their skin from insects or the sun,or simply because it feels good. Sometimes, they become stuck in the mud. In these situations, they can drown, suffocate, starve to death, or be slowly eaten alive by other animals. Birds, even those who can fly, can become trapped in mud as well. They, too, can often be saved.
Cetaceans such as dolphins and whales can sometimes become disorientated and end up stranded on beaches. In such situations, it’s almost inevitable that they 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 these animals have changed, and in some cases human beings do help them
Other animals may need to be rescued when they’re the victims of natural disasters, just as humans and domesticated animals would in their situation. They maybe washed away or drowned by floods; battered by hurricanes; or buried by landslides, avalanches, or 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. There are many cases in which human beings have helped animals in such situations. 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 starting to become more concerned about the suffering of animals in the wild caught up in natural disasters.
Fires occur regularly in nature. Some are started by human beings, either accidentally or deliberately. Others have natural causes. It is sometimes possible to help the animals affected by them, and in fact there are many cases in which this has already been done.
There have also been cases in which wild animals have been helped or rescued from fires or the effects of fire. Efforts are often carried out with a focus on animals that people like or that are more visible, but this does show how it is possible to help these animals. For example, there are many stories of koalas being rescued from wildfires. Because they are slow moving, they cannot effectively flee from fires. They also have weak immune systems, which means that if they sustain burn injuries, they are likely to die from infection. Hundreds of koalas die in Australian wildfires every year.2 Rescuing them may be easier than rescuing other animals who are smaller or more difficult to catch, so people who might not be able to save other animals have saved them.
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 wild animals) encouraged people living in the affected areas to leave out bowls of water for wild animals.3 It’s a small effort for humans, but to an injured and disoriented animal, it might be the difference between life and death.
There have been many cases in which animals have been saved from floods.An example of this took place in Kaziranga National Park in India. This park 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. It was estimated that floods in 2019 killed around 200 large 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
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: it is estimated that the floods in 2017 killed over 400 large animals, compared to around 200 in 2019.5
Independent organizations have also often played a role in rescuing animals in these situations. One example of this was when torrential rainfall caused extensive flooding in Arlington County in Virginia in 2019. 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 flood waters. Rescue workers with the Animal Welfare League of Arlington were able to save dozens of animals, including ungulates and dozens of orphaned birds and squirrels.6
In some cases, people acting independently, without the aid of organizations or governmental agencies, can take action to help animals. Here’s one example. 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.7 Their story shows that it is entirely possible for just a couple of people to rescue animals in difficulty.
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 their companion animals, animals in the wild generally don’t have shelter sufficient to cope with the impact of a hurricane. In 2019, in Walterboro, South Carolina, an animal sanctuary cared for hundreds of animals injured, displaced, orphaned, or otherwise impacted by Hurricane Dorian. Injuries include broken legs, head trauma, and pulmonary aspiration requiring immediate antibiotic treatment.
he 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.
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 from ingesting it (usually by eating ash covered grass) or inhaling it. After a 2018 eruption in the Philippines, many domesticated 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
Marine animals are also affected by eruptions, as lava coming into contact with water produces glassy shards, which are harmful to aquatic animals with gills. Lava flowing into water can also increase acidity levels which may be harmful to marine animals in the region.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 demonstrate 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. For the most part, our rescues focus on domesticated animals rather than on those living in the wild, but we can expand rescue plans to include more animals living in the wild.
1 Matthews, C. J. D.; Raverty, S. A.; Noren, D. P.; Arragutainaq, L. & Ferguson, S. H. (2019) “Ice entrapment mortality may slow expanding presence of Arctic killer whales”, Polar Biology, 42, pp. 639-644. 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
3 Gerova, V. (2019) “Koala mum and joey rescued as fires tear through bushland”, 10 Daily, Sat 07 Sep [accessed on 21 September 2019].
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].
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”, World Animal Protection, 31/01/2018 [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].