Whether it is war, fires, tornadoes, tsunamis, hurricanes, floods or chemical plant explosions, it seems that the numbers of disasters are increasing. And the scope of these disasters seem to greater than they have been in the past. Sometimes there is advance warning, allowing people to escape, other times there isn’t time. The news reports are generally the same: how many buildings or homes were destroyed, how many people were injured or killed. Reports on the complete toll documented. I’m talking about the non-human animals who are injured, lost or killed. Even when there is some warning for the animals (smoke in the air), the animals can’t outrun the fire nor can they find shelter from the storm. Floods, tornadoes and hurricanes don’t provide any warnings in advance for the dogs, cats, cattle, sheep, horses or wildlife. Then there are those in captivity, at rescue facilities, zoos and aquaria.
|tiger in Bagdad Zoo|
Some of you will find fault with my concern for the non-human animals. I will admit that I have a heightened concern for them. For some, they didn’t choose where they live – they are in that location because of humans. For native wildlife, this is their home. This is where their food supply is, where their dens and nests are. They can’t hop in a car and drive to the nearest evacuation shelter or hotel/motel. More often than not, animals of any kind aren’t welcome in evacuation shelters or hotels/motels.
How many of you even give a thought to the turtles, lizards, flightless birds and insects in the path of these monstrous disasters? What about the caged animals, trapped in those cages who can’t escape. Evacuating captive animals – rescued dogs and cats or those wild animals on display for our entertainment in zoos and aquaria? What about the dogs, cats, birds, fish, hamsters, gerbils and other so-called pets left behind when their human families flee? Sometimes their stories are told, after the disaster has passed, but more often than not their fear, panic, pain and deaths go unreported, unnoticed. I still remember my horror and outrage at the time of the great Yellowstone fires when the reports said “there were no fatalities.” Wildlife managers even said that the wildlife fled the fires. No one with an ounce of intelligence could possibly believe that every or even most animals could escape. All we have to think about is the natural behavior of animals when danger is sensed. Bear cubs react to a threat by climbing the nearest tree. Baby birds, not yet fledged, are trapped in their nests. Just how fast can a turtle or a lizard run? Can they outrun a raging forest fire? I think not. Others will retreat to their underground dens, which during a flood, serves as a death trap. I realize that it isn’t possible to save wildlife in advance of an approaching disaster, but I rail against the insensitivity of reports of “no deaths” in the aftermath. It isn’t simply human life that has value.
Adding to my anger is that we humans have left little wild habitat for wildlife. We continue to encroach upon what little remains. We give little or no thought when more wild lands are gobbled up to build more and more homes. We further insure the demise of native species by fragmenting their native habitat, limiting the number who can find enough food, sufficient territory and mates. The fewer the individuals of a species, the more limited is the gene pool. The Florida panther is a perfect example of a species in decline because of how all of the above have guaranteed the doom of this species found only in Florida. The male panthers have damaged hearts and usually only one descended testicle, limiting their ability to breed. These were regressive genes, but due to limited access to mates has made these genetic abnormalities dominant instead of regressive and therefore of rare occurrence.
While I sympathize with those families who have lost their homes, their possessions and family members and friends they, at least, have options. Picking up the pieces and starting over are traumatic and difficult. However, they had access to insurance, federal and state aid, along with support from many non-profits to help them get their lives back together. While there are more and more non-profits and individuals who respond to help the lost and displaced non-human animals (mostly domesticated animals), what about the wild animals who survived? They have no shelters or food sources since all of these have been destroyed in the disaster. If they survive many, if not most, will either starve or end up as food for predators. There is no place for them to go – they don’t have the option of moving in with family – their habitat, the only home they have ever known is utterly destroyed.
I hope as you follow the news about the latest disaster you will include in your concern the non-human animals whose lives have been impacted as well. Expand your sphere of compassion to include all of the lives damaged or ended, all too often due to human greed, stupidity or selfishness. There are always innocent lives not counted in the death toll.
For further reading about non-human animals and disasters, check out these links:
The Bagdad Zoo and the death of Lawrence Anthony, who helped save the remaining animals following the American invasion of Iraq. And the NPR interview.
And The Eco Cat Lady Speaks asks on her blog - What Would You Save?
And some animal rescue sites:
After Japan's tsunami, the rescue continues:
Black Forest fire links here: