Animal Victims of Tsunami

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Tsunami Killed Animals, Too!

Tsunami waves which killed over 150,000 people in Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand also had a devastating effect on many wild and domestic animals that lived in areas worst hit in the disaster. Though the count of animal casualties is unknown, reports say many companion and wild animals were killed by the waves and many more are starving in the aftermath of the tsunami. However, this disaster also uncovered some amazing stories on how the animals helped themselves and their human owners. Here are some of the tragic and some of the inspiring stories...

Animals Too Face the Brunt

In her article, Anubha Sawhney of Times News Network, says that the loss of human life in the tsunami was huge and frightening, but has anyone bothered to put a number to the animals that have also been affected?

Domestic animals have been the worst hit. "Many owners left their pets behind. In some areas, dead cows can be seen tied to poles and trees," says Pradeep Kumar Nath, honorary president of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. "The animals which have been abandoned should be helped first, the dead buried and others rescued. The immediate requirement is for animal feed and medicines."

Animals activist Maneka Gandhi says, "Abandoned, wounded animals are at risk of starving to death. Also, being the beginning of the year, most corporates have sent huge funding for tsunami relief and have nothing for animals."

Healthy animals - cows, goats, ponies and dogs - are becoming unwell due to lack of clean water. The cattle have been living on rotting food and many have ingested substantial amounts of plastic, a sure sign of trouble ahead.

"Just like humans, animals too need our help. We need to raise money for their food and shelter. Two of our teams had gone to the affected areas to assess the damage. We are working with groups across the country and coordinating their efforts," informs Anuradha Sawhney, PETA India. "For years, we have been trying to promote ways to handle disasters. We encourage people to take their animals along if they have to move and if they cannot, they should ensure they are left uncaged and unchained. We hope people will now think of adopting a stray animal."

Starving Dogs in Thailand

And the article found at The Star Online ( says that starving stray dogs have been raiding morgues. In Thailand, at a Buddhist temple used as a morgue and elsewhere in tsunami disaster zones, hungry stray dogs have been feeding on victims' corpses, even managing to get into body bags to do so, relief workers say.

It has become such a problem that a group of Thai veterinarians, armed with tranquilizer guns, has been given the task of capturing the strays. Aid workers in India have used real bullets.

"The dogs are starving and they just eat any meat," said Dr Kiartisak Rojnirandorn of Thailand's Foundation for Stray Dogs.

More than 60 dogs have been seized, including 40 around the Yan Yao Buddhist temple, which has become a makeshift mortuary here, where more than 4,000 people have died.

Some 2,000 bodies are being kept in the temple while undergoing autopsies and other identification attempts. Most have been kept refrigerated, but some newly found ones sometimes lay on the open ground pending a post-mortem exam.

The vets' goal is to make the area affected by the tsunami a "stray-dog free zone." They plan to send the captured dogs to a sanctuary in western Thailand.

Before the tsunami, most probably weren't strays but house pets whose masters were killed in the disaster.

"These dogs are smart. They can unzip body bags and eat the corpses inside," said Tohboon Sappasri, a Thai volunteer.

David Reinecker, a US-based animal behaviorist and professional dog trainer, said he was not surprised by the reports.

"We must not forget that dogs are carnivore animals and they follow the scent trails of blood," Reinecker said in an e-mail interview.

"Put simply, their predatory instinct is pushing them to search for 'food.' The dogs that survived the tsunami are going through a period of stress, fear and trauma."

Animal rights activists said dogs would eat human flesh only as a last resort.

"There have been instances in the past when dogs have become desperate enough to approach human corpses when there are no other options left," said Susan Sherwin, of Framingham, Massachusetts-based World Society for the Protection of Animals.

Emergency Aid Underway for Tsunami's Animal Victims

In their news release dated 13 January 2005, the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) (, an international UN-recognized charity representing nearly 500 member societies worldwide, reads that their disaster relief teams are coordinating emergency aid efforts currently underway for the animal victims of tsunami-struck parts of South East Asia.

WSPA veterinarians and animal care experts are working with local animal groups in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand to help protect abandoned livestock and companion animals, by supporting efforts to provide food and veterinary treatment for sick and injured animals, and establish temporary shelters.

In India, the affected areas are reported to be primarily rural with large numbers of farm and companion animals. Many people depend on their animals for their livelihood. Water in the affected area is reportedly unsafe to drink by humans and animals. There are fears of an onslaught of disease amongst domestic animals resulting from the poor conditions. Thousands of dead animals are reported along the beaches in the Madras area. Many farm animals are thought to have died in the disaster, with the survivors in urgent need of food.

Animal refugee camps to take in surviving animals in need of care are being set up and mobile veterinary clinics are already operational in the region. In Sri Lanka, hundreds of dogs, including those in refugee camps, have already been vaccinated against diseases that can spread in the aftermath of disasters.

Major General Peter Davies CB, WSPA Director General, said, "Although we can only guess at the true scale of the loss of animals and people, one thing is certain - animals will have shared in the fate of the people who have suffered the tragic effects of the tsunami. Animal shelters and veterinary facilities have been destroyed in affected areas and animal populations practically decimated. Our main priority now is to do what we can to safeguard the region's surviving animals, many of which are malnourished, dehydrated and at risk of disease."

WSPA is concerned that the effects of this disaster could have serious long-term consequences for a region with an emerging animal welfare movement that was already struggling to contain the illegal trade in wildlife and diseases like rabies.

Reactions On the Ground

Terri Crisp, Noah's Wish ( Director, writes about an experience one of the teams in Sri Lanka had: "Initially, people were extremely hostile when I dished out the dog food. This eased by yesterday, Sunday 3, when the WFP began penetrating the area with a consistent supply of human food and water, but I could still sense considerable disbelief and dislike at what I was doing."

A team was in a community where they'd received reports of some severely injured horses. The vehicle they were driving had placards on the side identifying that they were providing assistance to animals. When the team pulled into a parking lot a woman quickly approached the van with a frantic look on her face. When the team leader rolled down the window to be able to talk with the woman the following opinion came as a total shock. The woman immediately began screaming, "How dare you show up here to help animals when I can't find my missing baby in the debris!"

The disasters I have responded to have been horrible, but none of them, including Hurricane Andrew, come close to having the same kind of impact on the human population as last week's tsunamis did. As an organization, our mission is to help animals during disasters, so naturally we immediately put in motion efforts to find out how best we could fulfill our mission in Asia. This does not mean we are not equally concerned about the well being of the people though. Noah's Wish has always prided itself on being a disaster response organization that works as hard to help the animals as we do their caregivers. But, in this part of the world the majority of the people do not view animals as we do here in the states. In this disaster we are finding that almost all of the animals are totally on their own.

When you visit the government, media, and private web sites that list all the organizations that you can donate to during this disaster, not one of them, as of today, is an animal organization. The list of human relief agencies continues to grow though as does the amount of money being donated, which is wonderful. The relief efforts for animals though is almost non-existent in comparison. Yes, it appears that not as many animals died as was initially feared, but there are still needs to be met if the animals are going to survive the next few days, weeks, and month.

Having been involved in managing animals during disasters for 24 years, I am deeply saddened to see how little progress the animal welfare movement has made outside the United States and Canada when it comes to responding quickly and with more then adequate resources to help animals when disasters strike. It is my sincere hope that this recent disaster will be the one that finally gets animal organizations, individuals, cities, and countries better prepared, not only to respond to the human needs, but the animal's needs too. When things settle down, Noah's Wish will be the first one to raise our hand to suggest that disaster plans for animals be initiated in these countries that have been so badly impacted. To facilitate this happening, we will send our trainers to the interested Asian countries to provide the special kind of disaster training we can offer.

Animals Sensed Tsunami in Advance

An article from The Times of India, dated Friday, December 31, 2004, writes that after the tsunami wreaked havoc across the coastal region of India, the officials realized that the number of dead animals - cattle, goats and dogs - in the killer waves were much fewer than perhaps seen in calamities such as cyclones and floods.

"Villagers in this part do not tie their animals. This may have helped them to run away before the waves hit the villages," said an official overseeing the relief work in Cuddalore district.

An interesting theory that is emerging is that the animals sensed the tsunami much in advance and it helped them to run away to safer places.

"My three dogs were barking and howling with no reason at around 7 A.M. on Dec 26. I asked them to keep quiet but they continued barking and were restless," said Father PA Sampath Kumar of Holy family church at Keezputhupattu about 15 km from Pondicherry.

The first waves of the killer tsunami hit Keezhputhupattu about 8.30 A.M. which was followed by another at 9 A.M. ravaging this fishing village.

"I definitely think that my dogs sensed the tsunami," the priest said.

Interestingly, during the tsunami alert on Thursday, which turned out to be a false alarm, the dogs showed no signs of panic.

"They were absolutely calm as you can see them now," he said and pointed to the three dogs - one a cross breed of British Terrier and two cross breed of Labradors, which were roaming around the church premises, a temporary relief camp now.

The tsunami killed 600 people across 50-55 villages in Cuddalore district and Keezputhupattu. There was hardly any trace of a dead cattle, goat or dogs, said an army jawan involed in removing the debris at the Devanampattinam fishing village where over 100 deaths were reported.

Helping Tsunami Victims Rebuild Their Lives

IFAW (, which had been working on location with local communities in Southern Asia to help in the recovery efforts of one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history, asked an important question: When one has lost everything, who can one turn to? Where can tsunami victims find hope?

For those who depend on their livestock for their very livelihood, or on their pets for desperately needed emotional support, the answer is often: their animals. Aid for people needs to come first. And part of that aid, both economically and emotionally, is saving and reuniting survivors with the animals they need and love.

We have seen firsthand how much it means to someone who has lost everything to get a small piece of their life back. It may not seem like much for someone to once again hold their goat or cat after they have lost a home or loved ones, but for those victims with nothing left - it can mean the world. The tears of joy amongst so much suffering is something you never forget.

The Friday, January 7, New York Times, covers the use of elephants in the Tsunami clean-up effort in an article, by James Brooke, headed "Thais Use Heavy Equipment: Elephants Help Recover Bodies." (Pg A13)

It tells us: "Thais have long revered elephants as a national symbol. Now, the task of cleaning up in the aftermath of the deadly tsunami has, at least temporarily, brought elephants out of technological retirement."

They are used to shift debris and to locate and transport bodies.

The story includes the tale of the elephants, giving tourist rides, who (inadvertently) saved the lives of those tourists:

"Here in Khao Luk, people are talking about how eight elephants from a local tourist ride may have saved the lives of a dozen European tourists. After the earthquake, the elephants started trumpeting oddly. Then, shortly before the first tsunami hit, the story goes, they bolted for high ground, charging through jungle, with frightened tourists clinging desperately to their baskets on top. Down below, the waves were crashing through the resorts, wiping villas cleanly off their foundations, wrapping pickup trucks around utility poles, wedging a motorboat into a second-floor balcony and sending hundreds of tourists running, too late, for the high ground."

Even more ironic are stories of captive elephants in the Tsunami region, carrying tourists to safety or helping in the clean-up. In Thailand, baby elephants to be employed in the tourist industry are dragged from their mothers and have their spirits broken in a practice called Phaajaan. They are held in pens for three days and tortured. Many die. Each elephant's mother is chained nearby so that the baby learns that when he screams, his mother cannot or will not come to help - he learns that he is utterly at the mercy of humans. You can see horrifying footage, or a slide show, of Phaajaan at

The appearance of this story in the nationally and internationally distributed New York Times gives us a chance to speak for that species that has been so abused by our own. You can read the whole story on line at:

And finally, Karen Dawns' ( update since that Wednesday alert: I shared the story of the rescue of one trapped dolphin and the apparent death of another. It has not been in the news, but Jill Robinson, from Animals Asia, who was in Phuket this week, tells me she was told by others on the scene that 'there may only have been one dolphin after all in the Tsunami made lake and that pictures showing two individual animals, may actually have been of one and the same dolphin, which had been reversed.' A hopeful thought. But then every year thousands of dolphins still suffer and/or die at human hands.

In the end, please visit a website Animals' Voice, which has a terrific page devoted to the Tsunami disaster, giving information on relief agencies and much of the latest animal related news:

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