Tsunami Rescue Teams Try to Reach Abandoned Animals

BANGKOK, Thailand, January 4, 2005 (ENS) - The Thai Animal Guardians Association and the Wildlife Friends of Thailand together are taking charge of rescue and relief for the pets and livestock abandoned by their owners as a result of the tsunami that inundated Indian Ocean shores on December 26, 2004.

The human death toll has topped 140,000 people in 11 countries and the United Nations predicts it will rise to at least 150,000 people, yet amidst all the human misery, these organizations have not forgotten the animals.

Edwin Wiek, director of Wildlife Friends of Thailand, says animal owners either have had to desert their pets or are now unemployed and cannot feed them, while people who used to feed strays are no longer able to do so. 

"Food supplies and donations available are, unfortunately, only for humans. Pets and strays are in more serious situations than livestock, because the affected sites are not agricultural areas," says Wiek.


Stray animals hide out together in Bangkok before the tsunami. (Photo courtesy FAO)
The two organizations intend to buy dog and cat food and distribute these supplies to pet owners and animal groups in affected areas.

Rescue teams from the two organizations will search for and rescue pets and wild animals stranded on islands and in other affected areas.

The one volunteer veterinarian working with Wildlife Friends of Thailand will treat sick and injured animals as well as give veterinary attention and advise to the public. "We hope to get more volunteer vets in the process," Wiek says.

More food and veterinary assistance may be needed after on site evaluations in each area are done by the animal rescue teams. While their focus is on animals, humans will not be neglected, said Wiek.

This animal rescue and disaster relief effort is being operated by the two groups in coordination with the Royal Thai Tourist Police and the Royal Thai Forestry Police. It is financially supported by the London based World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA). 

The WSPA is mourning the death of Leone Cosens, co-founder of member society Phuket Animal Welfare Society, who was killed by the tsunami wave. "All at WSPA extend our heartfelt condolences to Leone's family, friends, and all who knew her, at this immensely difficult time," the organization said.

WSPA Director General Major General Peter Davies said, "The effects of the earthquake and subsequent tsunami have become a tragedy of truly horrendous proportions for people and animals alike. In the countries badly hit by this disaster, livestock and working animals are vital to the lives of rural communities that depend upon them for their very survival."


Phuket residents, Thai soldiers and a tourist clean a Phuket street today. (Photo courtesy Phuket Gazette)
The assessment phase of this disaster relief effort is still at a very early stage, with little information still available from some affected areas, said Davies.

Initial reports from Thailand and India suggest that many companion animals, particularly dogs, are without food, said the WSPA. A large starving dog population is reported on Phuket, Thailand, where the main animal welfare need appears to be food and water.

The gibbon sanctuary on Phuket is untouched by the tsunami, says Wiek, as it is situated on higher ground on the other side of Phuket Island from the tsunami disaster. "Things are as usual at the center," he said.

In India, many farm animals are thought to have died in the disaster, with the survivors in urgent need of food. Water in the affected area is reportedly unsafe to drink by people and animals alike, prompting fears of an onslaught of disease. Supplies of veterinary medicines, such as antibiotics, can make the difference between life and death for animals in the aftermath of disaster, the WSPA said.

In addition, thousands of animals, including turtles and other sea animals, are reported dead along the beaches in the Madras area of India.

Wildlife officials in Sri Lanka told the WSPA that they found no evidence of widespread animal deaths from the tsunami. They speculated that animals may have sensed the wave coming and fled to higher ground.