This next video discusses various other ways in which we can help animals who live in the wild. These include healing sick, injured, or orphaned animals, building shelters, and helping hungry or thirsty animals. Just like humans, nonhuman animals can also benefit from medical aid when they are sick or injured. Some may also benefit from shelters to keep them safe from the weather and predators. Animals are often hungry or thirsty, and providing food or water to them can be a good way of helping them in the right circumstances. Finally, orphaned animals are especially in need of help because they are unable to care for themselves.
Also available as a chapter of our companion ebook to the video course Introduction to wild animal suffering: A guide to the issues
Rescuing animals is only one way we can help animals in the wild. Now, we will see some ways they get medical treatment when they are sick or injured. Then we’ll see some examples of caring for orphaned animals. Finally, we’ll see some cases where hungry or thirsty animals have been helped.
Sarcoptic mange is a skin disease caused by burrowing parasitic mites. It affects several species of nonhuman mammals, including dogs, cats, coyotes, bears, and wombats. Wombats are especially badly affected by mange. It is believed that this is due to conditions inside wombat burrows being conducive to the survival and transmission of sarcoptic mites. Infested wombats lose hair, their skin becomes crusted and infected, and their eyes and ears become crusted over. In severe cases, it can lead to death.1 Infested wombats are generally treated with a medication called moxidectin. But the stress of capture can kill wombats, especially when they are in a weakened state. So the treatment is usually administered using a specially designed flap placed above the entrance to the wombats’ burrows.
White nose syndrome is a disease caused by the fungus pseudogymnoascus destructans. Since 2007, it has killed more than six million bats in North America. The mortality rate is higher than 90% in some species. The disease disrupts bats’ hibernation, causing them to either starve to death by using up all of their fat stores, or to die of exposure while trying to find food in winter. In 2019, bats were treated with the probiotic bacterium pseudomonas fluorescens, which increased their survival rate from 8% to 46%. Although the motivation to find a cure comes from conservationist interests, widespread application would nonetheless significantly reduce suffering and premature death among bats.2
Probiotic treatment may also be valuable in treating disease in other species. The chytrid fungus batrachochytrium dendrobatidis has had a devastating effect on amphibians, killing millions of animals across more than 500 species. Infected amphibians show symptoms such as low appetite, lethargy, and thickening of the skin which leads to death because affected animals are unable to take in nutrients and release toxins through their skin. Some amphibians breathe through their skin, and once infected, they may be unable to breathe. Boreal toads treated with a probiotic had a 40% higher survival rate. Probiotics may be used in the future to treat or protect amphibians susceptible to the disease.3
Research on the possibility of probiotic treatments for a fungal disease in snakes and another in honeybees is also underway. Probiotics have also been used to inhibit zoosporic infections in different species of fishes.4 Probiotics have the potential to significantly improve the welfare of many animals living in the wild by protecting them against diseases or by mitigating their effects.
Animals living in the wild are frequently injured in conflicts or accidents. For example, they may be injured during fights with other animals for multiple reasons: to defend themselves or their territory, to secure resources, in conflicts overmating partners, or to attain a higher social standing within a group. In some species, females are often injured by males in forced copulation. And, like humans, wild animals can become injured in accidents. But it is often possible to treat their injuries. Animals in the wild are sometimes territorial. Often they defend their territory with ritualized aggression, for example by intimidating displays, vocalizations, and gestures. Sometimes, however, they are forced to fight to defend their territory, and this can result in serious injuries.
Broken limbs are a frequent occurrence among animals in the wild, and without intervention, they are often a death sentence, because the injured animal is less capable of finding food and evading predators. Limbs can be broken in accidents or through conflict with other animals. If treated, animals can often make a full recovery. A broken wing is usually fatal for wild birds and other flying animals. Most are relatively easy to treat, however — birds and bats who are brought to wild animal rehabilitation centers usually make a full recovery. It’s even possible to fix a broken insect wing at home, like those of butterflies, whose wings are frequently damaged
Animals in the wild who receive parental care sometimes lose one or both parents. In such circumstances, it’s unlikely that they will survive. Most orphaned animals will starve to death, die of dehydration, or be eaten by other animals. The small number of orphans who do survive often undergo terrible hardships. It’s difficult for very young animals to survive. Most newborn animals receive no parental care, which increases their risk of dying. But those who do receive parental care may be so dependent on it that losing it means almost certain death.
Many nonhuman animals have strong emotional bonds with their families, and they miss their parents and feel grief when they die. Social animals who are orphaned can also suffer from loneliness because they are deprived of the social interaction that is so essential to their wellbeing. Fortunately, humans can assist orphaned animals, by rescuing them and providing them with the care they need.
Examples of currently existing wild animal orphanages include Rhino Orphanage in South Africa.5 Elephants can be orphaned too, because of drought, poaching, or by becoming trapped in mud, for example. The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya cares for orphaned elephants and rhinos, and at the time of writing they have successfully raised 244 orphaned elephants and 17 rhinos. The Senkwekwe Centre in Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is a sanctuary for the care and protection of orphaned mountain gorillas and eastern lowland gorillas. Gorilla infants are extremely dependent on their mothers and are highly unlikely to survive on their own if their mothers are killed.6
Most animals don’t receive parental care. They are typically born in large numbers and die shortly after coming into the world. An example is sea turtles. The number of them who reach adulthood is very low. In some cases, however, it is possible to provide them with help. People have made efforts to help baby turtles survive. One way is to help the hatchling turtles to reach salt marshes or the sea, which are safer than the areas surrounding their nest. These measures are typically taken because of conservationist concerns, but they help the animals involved.7
Another way to help wild animals is by building shelters or other structures for them to use. These structures allow animals to avoid dangerous weather conditions or avoid predators. Many different types of animals build nests for these reasons.8 However, it might take a long time and may not be as good as a structure that we could build for them. We can help animalsby providing them with suitable pre-constructed shelters or nests.9
There is more interest in treating great apes because their species is generally highly valued, and also because of recent threats to human health that have spread through contact with or consumption of infected apes. Other animals may not receive the same attention, but they could be treated similarly.
The most common shelters built by humans are “bird boxes.” These are commonly used by birds when they start families. If bird boxes aren’t cleaned after a family of birds finishes using it, however, diseases and parasites maybe spread to a new family of birds.10
Structures can be built for many other animals as well. For example, bats need a warm place to roost where they can safely sleep, raise their young, and hibernate. They will roost in human buildings when they have good opportunities to do so. Bats living in buildings have been found to be doing much better on quite a few different metrics than those roosting in natural settings.11 We could build more buildings specifically for bats to use or we could allow them to use more existing buildings.
It has also been found that rabbits can benefit when well-designed and well-placed artificial warrens are built for them. Invertebrates can also be helped in this way. A species of moth, Acrobasis betulella, has been found to use leaf rolls that were created by scientists. Animals of other species of arthropod in the area were also found to use these structures.12
Lack of access to clean water is another source of suffering and a serious risk to the health and lives of animals. Wild animals can also be helped when they need water, and it’s often easy to do. Water can be left in small containers that are accessible to them. There is a risk to small animals who could fall in and drown, however, so small ladders or other ways for them to get out are important. Water containers also have to be cleaned regularly so they don’t transmit diseases from some animals to others.
It could be problematic to build very large ponds, which could lead to certain animals such as mosquitoes and other insects reproducing in very large numbers, only to die painfully shortly afterwards due to lack of resources. The insects might also spread diseases and parasites to other animals.
Lack of access to clean water is another source of suffering and a serious risk to the health and lives of animals. Wild animals can also be helped when they need water, and it’s often easy to do. Water can be left in small containers that are accessible to them. There is a risk to small animals who could fall in and drown, however, so small ladders or other ways for them to get out are important. Water containers also have to be cleaned regularly so they don’t transmit diseases from some animals to others. It could be problematic to build very large ponds, which could lead to certain animals such as mosquitoes and other insects reproducing in very large numbers, only to die painfully shortly afterwards due to lack of resources. The insects might also spread diseases and parasites to other animals.13 In other cases, the animals who are saved are ones that have some touristic value, as when tourists want to watch animals that are typical of a place. For these reasons, supplemental feeding measures are taken in a number of national parks in different countries. Even if these interventions are not carried out with the aim of helping the animals themselves, they end up being positive for them.
However, it is important in these cases to be careful not to provide so much food to animals that they reproduce beyond the numbers their populations used to have. Otherwise, more of them will die because there will not be resources for all of them to survive. This is why in many cases it is not a good idea to provide extra food for animals in the wild, because it can cause much more suffering in the future as a result of trying to reduce it in the present.14
1 Tasmania. Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (2017) “Wombat mange FAQs”, Wildlife Management [accessed on 9 September 2019]
2 Hopkins, M. C. & Soileau, S. C. (2018) U.S. Geological Survey response to white-nose syndrome in bats: U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 2018–3020, Reston: U. S. Geological Survey; Hoyt, J. R.; Langwig, K. E.; White, J. P.; Kaarakka, H. M.; Redell, J. A.; Parise, K. L.; Frick, W. F.; Foster, J. T. & Kilpatrick, A. M. (2019) “Field trial of a probiotic bacteria to protect bats from white-nosesyndrome”, Scientific Reports, 9 [accessed on 9 September 2019].
3 Scheele, B. C.; Pasmans, F.; Skerratt, L. F.; Berger, L.; Martel, A.; Beukema, W.; Acevedo, A. A.; Burrowes, P. A.; Carvalho, T.; Catenazzi, A.; De la Riva, I.; Fisher, M. C.; Flechas, S. V.; Foster, C. N.; Frías-Álvarez, P.; Garner, T. W. J.; Gratwicke, B.; Guayasamin, J. M.; Hirschfeld, M.; Kolby, J. E.; Kosch, T. A.; La Marca, E.; Lindenmayer, D. B.; Lips, K. R.; Longo, A. V.; Maneyro, R.; McDonald, C. A.; Mendelson, J., III; Palacios-Rodriguez, P.; Parra-Olea, G.; Richards-Zawacki, C. L.; Rödel, M.-O.; Rovito, S. M.; Soto-Azat, C.; Toledo, L. F.; Voyles, J.; Weldon, C.; Whitfield, S. M.; Wilkinson, M.; Zamudio, K. R. & Canessa, S. (2019) “Amphibian fungal panzootic causes catastrophic and ongoing loss of biodiversity”, Science, 363, pp. 1459-1463 [accessed on 9 September 2019].
4 Hill, A. J.; Leys, J. E.; Bryan, D.; Erdman, F. M.; Malone, K. S. & Russell, G. N. (2018) “Common cutaneous bacteria isolated from snakes inhibit growth of Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola”, EcoHealth, 15, pp. 109-120; El Khoury, S.; Rousseau, A.; Lecoeur,A.; Cheaib, B.; Bouslama, S.; Mercier, P.; Demey, V.; Castex, M.; Giovenazzo, P. & Derome, N. (2018) “Deleterious interaction between Honeybees (Apis mellifera) and its microsporidian intracellular parasite Nosema ceranae was mitigated by administrating either endogenous or allochthonous gut microbiota strains”, Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 6 [accessed on 12 October 2019].
5 Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary (2016) “How to tell black and white rhinos apart”, Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary [accessed on 25 August 2019].
6 Stewart, K. J. (1988) “Suckling and lactational anoestrus in wild gorillas (Gorilla gorilla)”, Reproduction, 83, pp. 627-634.
7 For a possible exception see Ferrara, C. R.; Vogt, R. C.; Sousa-Lima, R. S.; Tardio, B. M.R. & Bernardes, V. C. D. (2014) “Sound communication and social behavior in an Amazonian river turtle (Podocnemis expansa)”, Herpetologica, 70, pp. 149-156; Sea Turtle Conservancy (2019) “Information about sea turtles: General behavior”, Conserve Turtles [accessed on 4 September 2019].
8 Hansell, M. (2005) Animal architecture, New York: Oxford University Press.
9 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.
10 Møller, A. P. (1989) “Parasites, predatorsand nest boxes: Facts and artefacts in nest box studies of birds?”, Oikos, 56, pp. 421-423; Arrington, D. (2011) “What birds want in a birdhouse”, The Seattle Times, April 4 [accessed on 10 November 2019].
11 Lausen, C. L. & Barclay, R. M. (2006) “Benefits of living in a building: big brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus) in rocks versus buildings”, Journal of Mammalogy, 87, pp. 362-370.
12 Hansell, M. (2005) Animal architecture, op. cit., pp. 216-217; Fernández-Olalla, M.; Martínez-Jauregui, M.; Guil, F. & San Miguel-Ayanz, A. (2010) “Provision of artificial warrens as a means to enhance native wild rabbit populations: What type of warren and where should they be sited?”, European Journal of Wildlife Research, 56, pp. 829-837.
13 Brittingham, M. C. & Temple, S. A. (1992) “Does winter feeding promote dependency?”, Journal of Field Ornithology, 63, pp. 190-194; Marion, J.; Dvorak, R. & Manning, R. E. (2008) “Wildlife feeding in parks: Methods for monitoring the effectiveness of educational interventions and wildlife food attraction behaviors”, Human Dimensions of Wildlife, 13, pp. 429-442.
14 Kallander, H. (1981) “The effects of provision of food in winter on a population of the great tit Parus major and the blue tit P. caeruleus”, Ornis Scandinavica, 12, pp. 244-248; Lott, D. F. (1996) “Feeding wild animals: The urge, the interaction and the consequences”, Anthrozoös, 4, pp. 232-236; Cooper, S. M. & Ginnett, T. F. (2000) “Potential effects of supplemental feeding of deer on nest predation”, Wildlife Society Bulletin, 28, pp. 660-666; Schoech, S. J.; Bowman, R. & Reynolds, S. J. (2004) “Food supplementation and possible mechanisms underlying early breeding inthe Florida Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens)”, Hormones and Behavior, 46, pp. 565-573; Robb, G. N.; McDonald, R. A.; Chamberlain, D. E.; Reynolds, S. J.; Harrison, T. J. & Bearhop, S. (2008) “Winter feeding of birdsincreases productivity in the subsequent breeding season”, Biology Letters, 4, pp. 220-223; Jones, D. (2011) “An appetite for connection: Why we need to understand the effect and value of feeding wildbirds”, Emu: Austral Ornithology, 111, pp.1-7; Orros, M. E. & Fellowes, M. D. E. (2012) “Supplementary feeding of wild birds indirectly affects the local abundance of arthropod prey”, Basic and Applied Ecology, 13, pp. 286-293.