It is heartbreaking to see the war in Ukraine. Every day, innocent people die, and 4.3 million have fled the country. We are shocked by the human tragedy unfolding and deeply disturbed by the suffering that this causes animals.
Many times, animals are the forgotten victims of conflicts and wars.
Particularly, the zoo animals of Ukraine are caught up in a terrible conflict. Some zoos have stated that they will have  to kill many of their animals. This has prompted a dismaying outcry, and it is rightly so.
Zoo animals can be trapped by design. For the benefit of paying visitors, they are forced to live in enclosures. It can lead to disaster when the enclosures they live in are not safe, and their income is reduced, as we saw in Ukraine.
While the Geneva Conventions emphasize humanitarian rights during war, animals’ rights are not considered. Zoos, originally set up for entertainment, can become battlefields in conflicts. Animals are held captive and are unable to flee, yet they are regularly attacked. Both animals and civilians both deserve protection.
Many animals have been injured or killed in attacks. Escapees can greatly harm people and animals, especially in urban areas . Animals can become stressed and traumatized by the sounds and sights of war. This can be seen at Kyiv Zoo, where animals are given sedatives and sometimes moved underground so their keepers can provide comfort.
This situation isn’t uncommon, and it doesn’t just present during wars. Similar circumstances were recently seen with the covid pandemic. The crisis in Thailand caused a severe decline in international tourism and left many attractions empty. The layoffs of thousands of workers followed the closure of tourist camps that housed captive elephants. Owners of the country’s more than 2,000 captive elephants were left in an unstable situation, unable to provide basic care such as food and healthcare.
Animals are made dependent upon humans when taken from their natural habitat. This is a fact.
We were able to help in Thailand as we had done in the past. In times of emergency, we assisted many elephants. This is, unfortunately, a lot more complicated when it comes to war.
First, in war-stricken areas, there are shortages and supply problems. Particularly big cats and carnivores require large amounts of meat that is difficult to find.
It can also be difficult to reach the premises. It’s also extremely dangerous. The fact that compounds this is that there are no safe routes. The risk of serious illness and death can be caused by transporting stressed animals through conflict zones. Mobile cages are another option for special transport. It is common to see zoos directly in the firing line being shelled. People who come in to help animals or provide supplies can also be at risk.
The third challenge is finding safe spaces for so many animals, especially when hundreds of them exist. For example, the Mykolaiv Zoo, located in an area where fighting can occur, houses 4,000 wild animals from 200 species. Wild animals are complex creatures that require long-term care. This is no easy task and a costly commitment.
These are only a few of the many factors you should consider. They are not an exhaustive list.
Recently, we helped to fund a rescue of Masha, a former circus bear from Ukraine. She was taken to AMP partner sanctuary in Romania after a life of cruelty . Although it was difficult to rescue her, she was able to make it to the sanctuary. It was an amazing sight to see her enjoying her new freedom. Tragically, her long-awaited retirement was cut short when she suffered a stroke just three weeks after she arrived. Although it could have been due to her age or poor health, we cannot rule out the stress of such a difficult and dangerous journey. We are grateful she received the best care in her final weeks. Masha died surrounded by nature as if she were in the wild. Behind the scenes, we are looking into ways to rescue other animals – there is no quick fix in such volatile situations. Masha’s sad story shows how moving animals can present challenges.
We all hope for the best for wild animals at zoos or aquariums. This is a very sad situation and reminds us why wild animals should be kept free from captivity. It would be better to gradually end the keeping wild animals in captivity for commercial exploitation so that such terrible situations do not happen again.