1914, World War 1. Indian cavalry marching through a French village. Photographer: H. D. Girdwood.

How War and Conflicts impact Wildlife Conservation

Whether plants, forests, crops or vegetation, or animals, both face consequences of loss and destruction that were surely not meant for them.

Bambi had been living with her deer family for ages in the forest. They were free to roam about and eat grass whenever they pleased. Their fellow squirrels, insects, frogs, lizards, cats, and other animals were also seen freely prancing around, enjoying the peace and freedom of their home forest.

One day a human camouflaged in the same-colored dress as the soil and trees were seen with a shiny metal tube in his hand. Bambi and her family were frightened and disturbed. They ran away from the mysterious human lurking in the undergrowth. Bambi had encountered a human for the first time.

It was not long before there were humans almost behind every tree or plantation in the forest. The news that a military camp was being set up in the outskirts of the forest spread like wildfire across the animals. The wise Mr. Chimpanzee had spread the news, and almost everybody knew he was always right.

The humans had started cutting a few of the trees, and many of the birds and other animals and insects that nestled there had been snatched from their homes. Some of the birds and deer had even been hunted and killed by the mysterious men clad in green, roasted on the fire, and gobbled up by them. The men had set up tents, huge bags of cloth, onto the ground at certain points in the forest, and they patrolled through almost every pathway, cutting trees and trampling upon everything. Mr. Chimpanzee spied on them and reported that they were preparing to attack the nearby village of humans with those absurd-looking metallic tubes and other similar things he could not identify.

Panic spread among the animals. That would mean more cutting of trees, more killing of animals, and even fire and destruction. Many years ago, they had heard from their animal ancestors; the humans had attacked this land where the forest was. All the trees had almost been cut; animals had died of hunger; some had even suffered the bullets and arrows the humans threw at each other and died in pain on this very forest floor.

 Although there had been a state of pandemonium for several days, the humans had left after a few weeks, and the forest land had healed itself over a period of some lengthy years.

 Fear filled the heart of every animal in the forest, including Bambi and her deer family, and they had no idea how to cope with the impending doom.

Animal victims of war

To our great remorse, wars and conflicts indeed result in mass devastation. And most of the time, the victims are innocent and have no role in the events going on. One of these unimpeachable sufferers is the wildlife of the area.

Whether plants, forests, crops or vegetation, or animals, both face consequences of loss and destruction that were surely not meant for them. When we talk about the invasion of enemy lands in war, it usually means destroying land and crops. While this is done to weaken the enemy, it is totally forgotten that other life forms are inhabiting the lands, and they should be spared the consequences of human enmity.

To begin with, we should start with the animals which are chosen for services during the war. Soldiers often travel or fight on horses, mules, oxen, bullocks, and elephants in the army. Camels come in handy if the war is taking place in a desert area. Animals are used to carry the soldiers, the food or water supply, and the extra weapons of the army. The cavalry is a crucial part of the army for long-term expeditions.

Pigeons and owls are employed to carry messages between the armies. Dogs are an important part of the military due to their ability to track down enemies and underground bombs and guard their human owners and later dig out victims. It is estimated that about 16 million animals served in the First World War! Another unique example of animals in war is glowworms at nighttime during World War 1 for illumination to read maps and official documents.

Animals are used in military research for the testing of weapons and the impact of injuries as well. For this purpose, pigs, sheep, rodents, rabbits, and primates are used. To check the safety and efficacy of the weapons developed, laboratory testing on these animals is done, and the toxicity of the weapon is evaluated.

Wildlife

Animals and plants living out in the jungles, savannahs, oceans, seas, and other landscapes aren’t exactly directly affected most of the time. It works this way that war and fighting cause the demolition of the environment. Air, water, and land pollution are inevitable. This causes stress on the resources; thus, wildlife perishes. Wildlife is dependent on food, clean water, air, habitat, deforestation, usage of wild plants, and water as food for the soldiers fighting poses competition for the animals.  In such circumstances, wildlife survival becomes a challenge, and many animal populations die.

War and fighting cause the demolition of the environment.
War and fighting cause the demolition of the environment

Zoos

Zoos and conservation sites are meant to be recreational spots for the public. They are for observation, learning, and interacting to some extent with the animals present. In times of war and conflict, such areas are completely neglected, and a state of peril ensues. Animals are either released and used to divert or distract enemy combatants in the conflict zones. They eventually starve, get injured, are killed, or recaptured and put back into the zoo. Basically, they suffer one way or the other.

Livestock

In times of war, activities like farming come to a halt. Livestock cannot be fed and taken care of properly. They are over-worked, killed, or become prey to disease and die off.

Working animals

These are animals that transport people, food, water, and other supplies. Although they are helpful in times of war, they also need provisions and care. Horses, mules, and donkeys come under this category mostly. A pressure for resources and hospitality arises due to increased prisoners and refugees as well. Most animals are killed or die off themselves.

Companion animals

Pets face abandonment or extreme starvation at times of war. They become refugees or are killed in the chaos of war.

To give you an idea of how many animals suffer, it is worth mentioning that many species often go into extinction or become endangered in times of war and many years after.

Can animals ‘feel’ pain and loss?

Yes, of course, they do! They are living creatures with a brain, a nervous system, and perceive, react and coordinate. Animals and living forms of all kinds react to stimuli in their environments. Sensitivity and adaptability are the basic characteristics of life.

Coming to the fact whether animals feel pain and emotions just like humans is worth discussing. Humans undergo a series of emotions like happiness, sadness, worry, anger, etc. As far as mammals are concerned, they do have feelings just like we do. Elephants actually shed tears and stay depressed for days after they have lost a family member. Similarly, a mother cat wails in sorrow for days after she loses a kitten. 

Animals are expressive of their feelings. For example, their facial features droop, their eyes well up, and they generally become less interactive.

If we come to smaller animals like reptiles or insects, they feel pain when squatted by us or sprayed and writhing. But their pain does not have a cognitive or emotional perspective like ours. Research has also further confirmed that reptiles are also capable of emotional states like pain, stress, suffering, excitement, fear, frustration, etc.

Of course, all these living things do not have the capacity to express their emotions as we do, but we should stop considering them as some robotic machine or useless life form.

NGOs working for animal protection rights

The most popular one in Pakistan is Todd’s Welfare Society. It was established in 2016 in Lahore, and it offers its services to injured, abandoned, and neglected animals in the city. Kiran Maheen is the founder of this organization, and she established it after she witnessed a dog’s heartless murder by a group of guards. She has named her NGO after her own pet dog, Toddy.

The vision of this NGO is to protect stray animals and aware the public as well. The main services offered are animal rescue, animal relocation, animal aid, foster care, and adoptions and awareness programs.

Another popular NGO is PAWS, Pakistan Animal Welfare Society. It was found in 2004 and is in Karachi. It aims to educate people to be kind and responsible towards animals and take care of the natural environment. PAWS carries out animal rescues, adoptions, and treatments.

Talking on an international level, almost every country now has several NGOs and animal activists spreading awareness against animal protection rights and welfare. In the US, one of these is the American Pet Association, which was established in Georgia in 1991. Its main goal has been to establish pet-friendly communities.

Another such organization in the UK is the Born Free Foundation, which strives to collect charity to support animals in the wild. There are hundreds of other such projects worldwide.

References:

  • How animals are harmed by armed conflicts and military activities, ceobs.org
  • Pain in animals
  • The surprisingly humanlike ways animals feel pain, Liz Langley, National Geographic
  • Yes, animals think and feel. Here’s how we know. Simon Worrall, National Geographic
  • Do insects feel pain? Dr Shelly Adamo, Dalhousie University
  •  A review of the scientific literature for evidence of reptile sentience- NCBI
  • Todd’s welfare society

Also, Read: Modern Wars: The Joint All-Domain Warfare

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