Animal Aid

WAR: Hell for animals

Posted 1 February 2003

Blood in the Sand
Guardian G2 14-02-03

A collection of up until now unpublished photographs and articles on the horror of the Gulf War. One photo shows a desolate desert-scape with oil well burning in the distance with a dying cow in the foreground amongst the debris of an Iraqi tank.

A scene of devastation from the 
        last gulf war. Credit: Paul O'Driscoll

"There was all this chaos when the Iraqis left Kuwait. I guess they went kind of berserk," photographer Steve McCurry remembers. "They shot an elephant at Kuwait City zoo, and let the hippos loose. Other animals were shot and incinerated in their cages. I don't know how the cows ended up in the desert; perhaps someone left the milking-shed door open. I was driving through the oilfields for several weeks after the hostilities ended and often came across cattle, camels and horses wandering around like zombies. I guess most died eventually - all the water holes and vegetation were covered in oil. The tank is one of many abandoned by the Iraqis as they fled Kuwait. The soldiers were in such a hurry to get away that they just left them and stole cars."

May 2003: The World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) is coordinating a team of disaster relief specialists that is currently awaiting clearance to enter Iraq to aid the animals affected by the war. For more information see the WSPA website at The following comment from Animal Aid's director, Andrew Tyler, was written just prior to the outbreak of war.

For nearly 18 months the drums of war have been beating incessantly. In a matter of weeks, or even days, George W Bush and Tony Blair may commit our two nations to an assault on Iraq.

Certainly, each new day a fresh verbal attack and more troops are being directed at the Iraqi dictator. Saddam, we learn from our newspapers, is the latest 'world's most evil and deranged enemy of freedom', a successor to Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini, Panama's General Noriega, Libya's General Gadhafi and the Saudi-reared Osama bin Laden. Never mind that Noriega, bin Laden and Saddam were once armed and sponsored by the West, while the vast arsenal of weapons inherited by the Islamist Khomeini were sold by the West to his pliable predecessor, the Shah of Iran.

No doubt Animal Aid supporters hold a variety of views about whether it is right or wrong to make war on Iraq. This article isn't the place to attempt to unravel or pronounce upon the geopolitics and money interests involved. But what we can and must point to is the irreducible fact that, in war, animals suffer more grievously than is usual even in times of 'peace'. Death and injury aside, we all know of the terror animals typically experience during the November fireworks season. War multiplies that experience thousands of times.

Some of the most indelible images of the last Gulf War showed the scorched and bloated bodies of camels abandoned in the shadow of burning oil wells. And there was that unforgettable photo of a gull drowning in oil. During the Serbian conflict, bored or hyped-up soldiers amused themselves by taking shots at wild animals. Animals in zoos were starved, beaten, fired upon and even attacked with grenades. Nor are such actions uncommon during times of conflict. War unleashes the devil in man. We need the best of reasons for unleashing that devil.

Whatever anyone's view as to the legitimacy of a war on Iraq, each of us must speak in defence of the animals caught up in such a conflict. The dogs and cats of the streets have no voice to make their own case; nor do Iraq's chickens and cattle, nor the horses, donkeys, camels, jackals, gazelles, water buffalo or wild pigs.

Animal defenders will once again be counselled to hold their tongues and concentrate on the prime matter of human suffering and death. Our reply must be: yes, there are many innocent human victims of war and it's right that people of conscience defend and support them. But it is also the case that humanity has constructed a support network for victims of war - as feeble as that network might be.

Animal victims of war are invisible. Our culture conspires to make them so. Animals understand none of it, play no part in any of it but when they are crushed and mutilated - wilfully or otherwise - there are those who dare tell us to remain silent.

We say: dare to speak out for the helpless animal victims and do so loudly and with confidence. Let those who have made an argument for this war, who have helped engineer it, see what war means for species other than our own.

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