DEFENSELESS IN THE FACE OF FIRE. THE GREAT FORGOTTEN ONES

When faced with a forest fire, we are not usually aware of all it means for animals. 

Mass media usually talks about material damage or human casualties, but rarely mention the other victims, whose numbers are so high that they are hard to imagine.

According to a study carried out in Australia, it is possible to calculate approximately the number of animals killed or affected by fire per hectare burned. But these estimates only refer to mammals, birds and some species of reptiles and frogs; they do not consider invertebrates or exploited animals.

It is very difficult to know exactly how many animals suffer the consequences of fires in each territory. But if we apply the data from this latest study to the fires that occurred in Spain during the summer of 2022, there would have been at least 73,728,000 animals affected in about 288,000 hectares burned.

Since this estimate does not include invertebrates (including all the variety of insects), other small animals or those exploited by humans, such as sheep, cows, dogs and many others, the real number is undoubtedly terrifyingly higher.

Temperatures during a fire can be so high that they can burn several centimeters below the ground. Small animals, such as reptiles, mice, or many insects, try to hide under stones or in small holes, but end up suffocated or burned. 

Most of them turn to ashes. Some birds or larger land animals manage to escape, but they often do it injured and with serious difficulties in finding food.

Many young animals lose their parents and are forced to starve to death. 

For all of them, the stress and fear of being burned to death is a constant. Nowadays, any human being in this situation is helped. However, the suffering of all these animals is not even considered.

In the summer of 2022, we visited several areas affected by forest fires in Galicia. Our intention was to learn about and document the situation of the animals in these catastrophes. There was something common to all of them, the animals were generally treated as material goods, or simply invisible. 

In the villages we visited, the inhabitants told us of animals in corrals and henhouses completely burned by the flames, and how the authorities themselves urged them to flee, abandoning the animals there. 

In a recreational center that was affected and had ducks, chickens, cats, and parrots, they explained to us that they had no rescue protocol for them and that they were also instructed by the security forces to leave the animals in case they had to evacuate the place. 

The accesses to several hills affected by the fire, which were home to cows and horses, were blocked even for the "owners" of the animals.

Rows of hives were reduced to little more than ashes with many of the bees inside.

The dogs in the pictures, some used for hunting, were engulfed by the fire without anyone doing anything for them.

In addition to all this, many animals that manage to escape the flames are hit by the shots of hunters who take advantage of their situation of bewilderment.

As always, animals are the most vulnerable and the most damaged, either by direct human action or by inaction when it comes to helping them.

In addition to establishing actions to prevent fires, we believe it is of utmost importance to establish protocols to help animals in these situations as well as in other types of catastrophes. To do so, it is necessary to stop discriminating against them, to stop exploiting them and to stop thinking that in nature they do not need our help.

Helping human beings and not helping other animals is a terrible injustice, because if there is something that makes us equal to them, it is the capacity to suffer.

Published in October 2022

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