Animals and the Afghanistan war
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 2001:
BHARATPUR, NALABANA, India; KABUL,
Afghanistan–Ornithologists at the renowned bird sanctuaries of India
are anxiously monitoring the skies and marshes to see how U.S.
bombing in Afghanistan has affected the annual migrations from
Siberia and the Himalayas.
By January 2002, they expect to know. For now, most are
optimistic, after fearing the worst when the bombing started.
“While demoiselle cranes have already started arriving in
droves, pelicans and geese are conspicuous by their absence,” said
the Times of India on December 3. “Pintails, widgeons, and
poachards are expected to fly into Bharatpur at any time.”
In all, more than 200,000 birds of 167 species reached India
almost on schedule. “However, night geese and ducks, who cross the
Hindukush range, seem to have been put off by the heavy firing over
Afghanistan,” said ecologist Pushpindar Singh.
“The war came in the thick of the migratory season,”
explained conservationist Luv Kumar Khacher. “The air raids were
like tremendous thunderstorms. As with humans, some birds were
killed,” Khacher told Times of India news editor Gunvanthi Balaram.
But running a gauntlet of gunfire is nothing new for the
migratory species, at continual risk from poaching for decades as
they journey over the wetlands of Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
They do not linger long at any one stop en route to India, as only
India successfully bans shotguns.
To evade the poachers, “Storks and pelicans fly as high as
20,000 feet,” explained Khacher. Until American aircraft appeared
over Afghanistan, nothing else was in the sky at that height.
Many other species fly by moonlight, resting by day in
remote parts of swamps. But the huge, low-and-slow-flying Siberian
cranes are always vulnerable. Some Afghans even kill them with
slingshots, said Bombay Natural History Society migratory and shore
bird specialist S. Balachandran. Thirty-two reached Bharatpur in
1985, but only two in 2000.
As the cranes stop in the Al-Astaba wetlands of Afghanistan,
near the fighting, none were expected this year. Yet one pair did
get through, causing Balachandran to wonder if the war might have
diverted some of the usual poaching pressure.
Migratory birds are safe within the Indian sanctuaries, but
the Nalabana sanctuary protects only part of Chilka Lake, the
largest inland salt marsh in Asia. Despite the shotgun ban,
“Large-scale organized poaching by the villagers around Chilka Lake
continues to be a major threat,” said S.T. Beurla of the Deccan
Herald. “After killing the birds, the poachers sell them in nearby
markets. There is a huge demand for some species, whose remains are
used in folk medicines for asthma.”
Trying to reduce the poaching pressure, “forest department
officials, a few nonprofit groups, and a nationalized bank recently
gave 56 poachers loans of about $115 each at a 4% rate of interest,
to enable them to develop other sources of income,” Beurla wrote.
Kabul Zoo rescue planned
Much less information is available about animals on the
ground in Afghanistan, except at the 100-acre Kabul Zoo, a favorite
haunt of reporters stuck in the Afghan capital while awaiting access
to the war zones.
Descriptions of the Kabul Zoo from the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s,
and 2001 document the degeneration of a facility once considered the
best zoo in Central Asia. Often working without regular pay,
sleeping on the grounds, the small but dedicated staff kept most of
the collection alive despite food shortages and occasional shellings
until 1992. Then one day a Peshtun soldier, newly arrived with his
militia unit, climbed into the lions’ den to show off. Marjan, the
then-37-year-old male African lion, quickly killed him. The next
afternoon the soldier’s brother tossed a grenade into the den,
blinding Marjan and killing his mate–but Marjan survives, one of
the oldest lions on record, a symbol of Afghan endurance, along
with a bear whose wounded nose has been severely infected ever since
a Taliban soldier poked him with a sharp stick in 1998, another
male lion, three other bears, two wolves, a deer, a six-member
troupe of rhesus macaques, several injured birds-of-prey, and a
variety of domestic rabbits.
The blinding of Marjan was just the beginning of three years
under frequent seige. The zoo was in the no-man’s-land between
mujadin and Communists, warring mujadin factions, and mujadin and
the Taliban. In between, bandits in 1997 murdered longtime keeper
Agha Akhbar, and almost any animal who could be poached by hungry
soldiers was killed and eaten, including several elephants and even
The Taliban considered closing the zoo, but eventually just
barred female visitors, whose offerings formed a major part of the
When the Taliban fled, the invading Northern Alliance and
press corps found current zoo director Sheragha Omar and keeper Abdul
Sattar on duty to greet them.
Within hours of fresh video of Marjan and the injured bear
being beamed to the outside world, North Carolina Zoo director and
Brooke Hospital for Animals trustee David M. Jones started a $30,000
fund to provide veterinary care to all the animals, give them a
proper diet, and rebuild their quarters, originally built by the
Koln Zoo in Germany. The American Zoo Association kicked in $10,000.
The World Society for the Protection of Animals relayed $3,000
donated by the London Daily Mail. The Animals Asia Foundation
offered bear care expertise.
Dogs in the war zone
Other Afghan animals of whom something is known include the
cavalry horses used by the Northern Alliance for rough-terrain
transport and anti-tank patrols; the pack burros used to haul
emergency food rations through the mountains to remote villages; and
the United Nations-funded corps of 186 mine-sniffing dogs, based in
Kabul, that began with 14 German shepherds and Belgian malinois
donated in 1994 by the King of Thailand.
“On the streets of Kabul, dogs are considered unclean by the
Islamic fundamentalists,” Lynda Gorov of the Boston Globe explained
on November 21. “The mine-sniffing dogs are not cuddled or coddled,”
Gorov continued. “But at their kennel on the outskirts of Kabul,
they are treated like pets with a purpose. Theirs is among the most
important work in Afghanistan. The dogs can smell explosives in
newer-model plastic mines that metal detectors cannot locate.”
Two of the dogs were killed by an errant U.S. bomb in late
October. The rest are still on the job.
Dogs are often feared and despised in Afghanistan, as in
much of Asia, because they may carry rabies. Ex- Taliban health
minister Mullah Abbas Akhund told Associated Press writer Kathy
Gannon on October 29 that three or four people are bitten by roving
dogs each day in Kabul.
“Most are children who try to play with the dogs,” Akhund
said. During the last months of the Taliban regime, Akhund
continued, post-exposure vaccine for human dogbite victims was
unavailable, and there was rarely a way to keep the vaccine cold
enough to be safe even if it had been in stock.
Vaccinating dogs en masse to eliminate the rabies threat has
not even been tried in recent years, but post-Taliban is at least
On other fronts
While the war in Afghanistan most directly impacts animals in
the war zone, or those trying to pass through it, others are
affected right around the world.
“A planned release of five cheetahs from the Chipangali
Wildlife Orphanage into Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, has been
delayed after a researcher bringing radio collars postponed his
journey following the September 11 terrorist attacks,” Busani Bafana
of the Zimbabwe Standard reported from Bulawayo in mid-October.
The manatee viewing area at the Florida Power & Light
generating facility in Riviera Beach, rated one of the two best by
the Save The Manatees Club, was closed indefinitely on September 11,
after company officials judged that the plant could become a
terrorist target. The Federal Aviation Administration meanwhile
grounded airborne manatee counts for 10 weeks. The planes were
finally allowed to fly again on November 28.
The war also crippled sea turtle stranding rescue efforts on
Cape Cod, as Coast Guard vessels were not available to ferry turtles
to warmer water this year, and commercial airlines, making fewer
flights, had less empty space to donate.
As of November 25, the rescue network, coordinated by the
New England Aquarium in Boston, had handled 28 endangered Kemp’s
ridley sea turtles, two loggerheads, and a green sea turtle. The
were praying that the winter would not be like 1999, when nearly 300
sea turtles required help. They were able to save 89 of the 219
Kemp’s ridleys among them, at cost to the aquarium of $52,000 for
paid staff and veterinary care, supplies, and medicines.
This year, the rescue budget was hurt by a 37% drop in
aquarium revenue since September 11– a $900,000 loss.
Christian Science Monitor correspondent Jeremiah A. Hall
reported on November 26 that, “Across the country, nonprofits–from
animal shelters to zoos– report that donations fell by as little as
5% after the terror attacks.”
But that was not what others found. While the American Red
Cross raised $543 million from appeals linked to September 11, and
charities formed to help dead or missing police and firefighters’
families took in $353 million, said The New York Times, the only
animal charity known to have done well after September 11 was the
The ASPCA told the Chronicle of Philanthropy that it raised
about $1 million in connection with September 11, and told Best
Friends that about $200,000 of it would be shared with other shelters
and small rescue organizations that helped with the September 11
Also sharing with organizations that were at the scene was
the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Having previously sent
supplies, IFAW on October 22 sent $25,000 each to the Humane Society
of New York, the American Veterinary Medical Foundation, and the
Suffolk County SPCA, which was the lead humane organization at
Ground Zero, with veterinary help from the North Shore Animal League
Even other shelters located near the ruins of the World Trade
Center found themselves unexpectedly struggling during months that
are usually approaching the peak season for charity income. Issuing
emergency appeals from Long Island were the Heart of the Wild
wildlife rehabilitation center and Rocky’s Fund Dog Rescue, both of
Southampton, and The Little Shelter, of Huntington.
Some animal charities even found themselves losing pledges
that were rediverted to the Red Cross et al.
“In Houston,” reported Tamar Lewin of The New York Times,
“the Spay-Neuter Assistance Program, which provides free or low-cost
sterilization for cats and dogs, had to cut services 10% when a
September 29 fundraiser fizzled. Five corporate donors, whose names
were on the invitation, backed out. One said it could no longer
support the program because the company had sent $50,000 to the Red
Reportedly in crisis by the end of October, in Maine alone,
were the A.E. Howell Wildlife Conservation Center in Amity; the
Animal Welfare Society, in Kennebunk; and Marlee Animal Rescue,
serving eight southern Maine communities.
But reader response to an article about the plight of the
Marlee shelter by Ted Cohen of the Portland Press Herald demonstrated
that the public had not become insensitive or indifferent toward the
plight of animals–just distracted.
Struggling with an $11,0000 operating deficit when Cohen’s
article appeared on October 19, the Marlee shelter soon received
donations totaling more than $16,000.
Some animal care charities enjoyed a boost from good
publicity after participating in the placement of pets who lost their
homes on September 11. Indeed, there were not quite enough “9/11”
animals to go around. The New York City Center for Animal Care and
Control, ASPCA, and Suffolk County SPCA quickly rehomed all the
orphaned animals and ex-pets found at large near Ground Zero, so
small rescue groups like Agway-to-the-Rescue of South Dennis,
Massachusetts, and Helping Paws, of Colchester, Connecticut,
reportedly placed other animals from the CACC shelter.
Helping Paws cofounder Clint Knapp took 15 cats and two dogs
to Connect-icut on one trip, but said his group had 20 would be
adoptors lined up to claim them.
Other small rescue groups trapped feral cats near Ground
Zero. Beyond driving distance from New York City, humane
organizations set up fostering networks to look after the pets of
military reservists who were called to active duty, and active duty
personnel who were transferred overseas.
A few animal charities found other ways of participating in
the September 11 aftermath, such as identifying shelter dogs who
might qualify for training to become bomb-sniffing dogs. Trainers
who normally produce half a dozen ready-to-work dogs per year found
themselves holding prepaid orders for up to 15. Providing pet
therapy to workers at Ground Zero also had cache, as did giving
follow-up care to search-and-rescue dogs who had worked at the scene.
Ralston Purina and the American Kennel Club Canine Health
Foundation committed $100,000 to a study of the longterm health and
psychological effects on the estimated 350 dogs who served at Ground
Zero, to be directed by University of Pennsyvlania veterinarian
By December the post-September 11 atmosphere of crisis had subsided.
Among the first to report falling donations after September
11, as ANIMAL PEOPLE reported in October, were the Humane Society
of the Tennessee Valley, in Knoxville, and Primarily Primates, of
San Antonio. HSTV executive director Vicky Crosetti cut her salary
to keep the doors open, issued an emergency appeal, and on press
night was optimistic that the worst was over.
Primarily Primates “had to halt progress on projects that
would have enabled us to accept more animals,” president Wally Swett
explained in a November 6 appeal. “For the first time ever, we had
no choice but to turn away new animals.”
Zoos too felt the bite. In Reno, Nevada, Sierra Safari Zoo
director Jim Martin told Associated Press that receipts were down
80%, and that as a last resort the zoo might have to sell some
animals to raise the $27,000 needed to feed the rest through the
The malaise even hurt Great Smoky Mountains National Park,
perhaps the most accessible major National Park to east coast
population centers. Visits to the relatively remote Cataloochee
Valley nearly doubled in 2001, after elk were reintroduced there,
but overall visits fell by about one million, or 10%, mostly after
New Rocky Mountain Elk Found-ation president Rich Lane took
office on September 23 and immediately laid off 33 staff members,
but still expected to “put $27 million into land acquisitions and
conservation easements” to encourage the growth of a huntable elk
Hunters and sentinels
In New Paltz, New York, Anne Muller of Wildlife Watch
appealed to authorities to suspend the 2001 fall and winter hunting
seasons. Guised as hunters, Muller pointed out, “Armed and
camoflaged individuals can get close to chemical, agricultural, and
business facilities, gas and electric lines, substations,
transformers, and airports.” Wildlife Watch is descended from the
Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting, founded in 1975 by Luke Dommer,
who died in 1992.
Muller was not taken seriously. But the Federal Aviation
Administration did bar airlines from transporting unaccompanied pets
as “cargo,” in case a crated dog or cat should happen to be
concealing a bomb.
At the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, meanwhile, no charges
were filed against a hunter whose rifle blew out a window when he
tried to show a ticket agent that it was not loaded. The man was
allowed to fly on to join an elk-hunting party.
Peter Jennings of World News Tonight reported on November 1
that pet store puppy sales were up 50% after September 11, as
rattled Americans looked for comfort.
Two days later, Shelley Emling of the Atlanta
Journal-Constitution wrote that Manhattan pet stores were selling
record numbers of canaries and other small caged birds, “because the
buyers hope the birds will be able to warn them of a poison gas
Similar reports followed from other sources, as at least
five Americans died in October and November after contracting anthrax
from letters contaminated by an alleged bioterrorist.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention epidemiologist
Bruce G. Weniger, MD, recommendied to colleagues that mice, guinea
pigs, and rabbits of strains with low resistance to anthrax should
be bred in large numbers and deployed in cages as sentinels at public
Franklin Loew, DVM, dean of Becker College in
Massa-chusetts and former dean of the schools of veterinary medicine
at Tufts and Cornell universities, rebutted Weniger in a November 6
letter to the New York Times.
“The suggestion that small animals might serve as sentinels
for anthrax or other bioterror threats is redundant,” Loew pointed
out. “Americans already keep more than 110 million cats and dogs,
most of whom drink the same water and breathe the same air that we
do, and even sometimes eat the same food. Surveys show that large
numbers of people allow their animal companions to sleep in bed with
them. If there is something bad going on, these animals would
surely show signs of illness.”
Loew recommended “early visits to the veterinarian in the
case of unusual signs, including unusual behavior,” and said,
“Farmers and ranchers should pay close attention to their livestock.”
Though most Americans were unfamiliar with anthrax when the
post-September 11 cases emerged, it is well-known in Africa,
Central Asia, and in the U.S. west, mainly afflicts livestock, and
killed 1,600 deer and other animals at hunting ranches near Montell,
Texas, as recently as June 2001. In October, concurrent with the
death of the first anthrax attack victims, a natural outbreak killed
21 cows in Santa Clara County, California. Another fall outbreak
killed 95 cattle, two horses, and two deer in Minnesota.
Cutaneous anthrax, contracted through skin lesions and
rarely fatal if treated, usually strikes people who handle diseased
or dead livestock–such as veterinarians, farm-hands, renderers,
and trappers who salvage carcasses as bait. The deadlier inhaled
form spread by alleged terrorism requires exposure to airborne
In Africa and Central Asia, including Afghanistan, whole
families sometimes die from anthrax after salvaging meat from
partially decomposed livestock carcasses. Some victims mistakenly
presume the meat is safe when they see dogs scavenging it.
But, “If you can say anything nice about anthrax, it’s that
dogs are not as susceptible to it as livestock,” Maryland Department
of Agriculture veterinarian Jacob Capser told Washington Post staff
writer Anita Huslin. Like vultures, dogs evolved to scavenge, and
to resist infection from their food.
Humans have no such resistance, and usually cannot recover
from anthrax without use of antibiotics such as Cipro, made by Bayer
The deadliest threat
On October 30, New York Times science writer Philip J. Hilts
detailed the risk that Cipro might become ineffective against anthrax
due to alleged overuse of a similar Bayer antibiotic called Baytril
to kill campylobacter bacteria in factory-farmed chickens.
“Six years ago, when the Food and Drug Administration was
asked to approve Baytril for use in chickens, a fierce argument
ensued over whether it would hasten the spread of drug-resistant
germs,” recalled Hilts.
“Campylobacter bacteria contaminate most chickens that go to
market in the U.S., and the bacteria are the most common cause of
food-borne illness, bringing on some two million cases of food
poisoning annually,” of an estimated 20 to 80 million total U.S.
cases, mostly associated with meat.
“The illness is rarely fatal, but the main treatment is
Cipro or a similar fluoroquinolone drug,” Hilts continued. “If
those germs become resistant, doctors worry that the number of
serious cases of food-borne disease will increase, and worse, that
the resistance to fluoroquinolone drugs may spread from campylobacter
to other microbes, thus making other illnesses harder to treat.”
University of Maryland professor of epidemiology Ellen K.
Silbergeld and John Hopkins Center for a Livable Future associate
director Polly Walker then warned in a November 3 New York Times
op-ed column that “U.S. agribusiness is now squandering” the ability
to use Cipro against anthrax and other deadly bacterial diseases “by
using powerful antibiotics carelessly for livestock and
poultry–mostly for nontherapeutic reasons.”
Food-borne bacterial disease already kills several thousand
more Americans each year than were killed by the terrorist acts of
September 11. Even a slight increase in the incidence of
antibiotic-resistant deadly strains could send the toll soaring.