After watching the video of Marjan, Afghanistan’s last lion shared in our class I wondered why my mind had never gone to the impact of war on these living creatures. Naturally, humans come off as a top priority, but it doesn’t mean that we should close our eyes to the fact that thousands of animals are killed in these conflict zones with no idea of what’s happening around or what’s to come and hence not even the smallest hope of escape. When humans war, animals die. They are killed by bombs or chemicals or hunted to feed soldiers. In Africa, about 90% of large animals like elephants, zebras and buffalo decline during wartime. However, its not just amidst the war that these animals die. They have also been widely used as a means of pre-war military research. Weapons have been tested for safety and efficacy, on usually pigs and sheep – many of which were shot and killed in the process. Many are used to test chemical, biological, or radiological warfare, or for medical personnel to experiment on and train to deal with burns, blasts and wounds.
Like the one-eyed lion Marjan, zoo animals are another set of victims of conflict. In times of war, zoos lack paying visitors, and zoo animals are seen as a liability. The animals can be killed, eaten, injured, starved, stolen, traded, abused even abandoned or released into the conflict zones as a diversion to distract combatants and slow recovery efforts. In 2003, following the invasion of Iraq, large carnivores like lions, panthers and jaguars were released from the Baghdad Zoo and from private residences by the retreating Iraqi forces in order to impede coalition forces from advancing on the city, these animals were ultimately killed or captured. Companion animals can also be victims of war, being killed, maimed, or abandoned. In times of extreme food shortages, they have been euthanized because owners could not feed them, or even eaten by their owners or other people in the community. In many cases, companion animals are abandoned and become lost in the chaos of war, especially when their owners are displaced or become refugees.
While researching I found out about this veterinarian, Dr. Amir Khalil who along with his team at Four Paws International, a Vienna-based animal welfare charity, goes into conflict zones to rescue the animals trapped there. He runs the rapid response unit of the organization and risks his life going into these war regions to evacuate and provide the necessary treatment to the shell-shocked, injured and starved animals. I'm adding the link to a video that shows his work and another which is an interview of him talking about some of his most difficult mission.