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10 Times When Humans Declared War on Animals

by Jennifer Sizeland
fact checked by Darci Heikkinen

Throughout history, humans have often found themselves at war with other peoples or nations, but there have been a surprising amount of times when animals have been the ones to be fought.

There are a variety of reasons why animals have found themselves at the center of human conflict. Sometimes this is because animals live in places where battles are being waged, become accidental soldiers, or are slaughtered to punish indigenous people. It could even be that certain creatures are simply deemed to be pests.

There have been times when animals have won and times when they’ve lost. But any time when a native species has been needlessly persecuted in high numbers, it creates an imbalance that causes another problem later on.

All these years later, humans still wage wars with animals despite the lessons we’ve learned from these previous battles with several species around the world.

Related: 10 Little-Known Facts About The Second World War

10 The “Four Pests” campaign

When China went to war against the sparrows

Mao Zedong’s disregard for nature was evident throughout his rule over China from 1949 to 1976. During that time, his slogan was “Man Must Conquer Nature,” as part of his Great Leap Forward movement.

As well as deforestation and changes to farming methods, one extreme measure was his “Four Pests” campaign, which targeted flies, mosquitoes, rats, and sparrows. As part of this policy, sparrows were killed en masse, which disrupted the ecological balance as they actually played a role in pest control. Consequently, crops became vulnerable to insects like locusts, leading to a devastating famine that claimed the lives of millions.

Those who criticized these policies faced persecution, such as hydro-engineer Huang Wanli, who was sent to a labor camp for opposing a dam project.

Even after the Great Leap Forward was repealed in the early 1960s, farmers were forced to prioritize grain production, leading to further damage to the environment and hardships for the Chinese people.[1]

9 The Battle of Ramree Island

Soldiers So Crazy They Were Eaten By Crocodiles Instead of Surrender

During World War II, Ramree Island, off the coast of Burma (now Myanmar), played host to several military battles. However, in 1945 the most terrifying event occurred when British troops forced nearly 1,000 Japanese enemy soldiers into the dense mangrove swamp that covered 10 miles (16 kilometers) of Ramree.

Unfortunately for them, the mangrove jungle was home to saltwater crocodiles, the largest reptilian predators in the world. With some individuals reaching over 20 feet (6 meters) in length and over 2,000 pounds (907 kilograms) in weight, even mid-sized crocodiles of this species are capable of killing adult humans.

About 500 Japanese soldiers are believed to have escaped the swamp, with 20 eventually being recaptured. However, around 500 are believed to have been eaten. Survivors reported harrowing tales of crocodiles appearing out of nowhere to drag victims away.

The incident has been recognized by Guinness World Records as the “Most Number of Fatalities in a Crocodile Attack,” although the exact numbers are debated.[2]

8 The Buffalo War

Why the US Army tried to exterminate the bison

In 1871, William “Buffalo Bill” Cody and a group of wealthy New Yorkers embarked on a buffalo-hunting (though they were really bison since buffalo don’t exist in America or Europe) expedition in Nebraska. It was also part of the United States Army’s mission to control Native Americans by eliminating all buffalo, which they relied on for sustenance. One colonel was quoted as saying, “Kill every buffalo you can! Every buffalo dead is an Indian gone.”

This destruction was seen as a means to control Native Americans and force them onto reservations. The economic depression of 1873 led to an influx of buffalo hunters slaughtering the animals to make a profit. Thousands of buffalo were killed, and their hides piled up in towns, flooding the market with too many of the once-valuable resource.

The buffalo population dwindled rapidly, and by the end of the 19th century, there were only a few hundred left in the wild.

Efforts to save the species began in the 1870s, but President Ulysses S. Grant refused to sign a bill protecting the animals. The government eventually delivered cattle to some tribes to replace the animals killed.

The recent designation of the American bison as the national mammal is a recognition of the animal’s historical significance.[3]

7 The Great Emu War

How Australia Keeps Losing Wars To Animals

In 1932, the farmers in Western Australia were already grappling with tough times in their farming lives due to the aftermath of the Great Depression. However, their challenges were magnified when approximately 20,000 emus migrated inland during their breeding season.

Australia declared war on emus due to the crop damage they caused, and soldiers armed with machine guns were deployed to fight them. The emus proved to be formidable opponents, and despite several battles, the human soldiers were unable to achieve a clear victory.

Today, emus remain abundant in the areas outside of Perth, and their triumph in the war has inspired an action-comedy film in development.[4]

6 The War on Wolves

How the re-introduction of wolves is impacting Colorado

The war on wolves in the United States has been going on since the 19th century to stop them from predating livestock. In 1905, the federal government attempted to use biological warfare by infecting wolves with mange, and a decade later, Congress passed a law mandating that wolves be eliminated from federal land. By 1926, all wolves in Yellowstone National Park had been eradicated through poisoning, shooting, and trapping.

In the 20th century, efforts were made to restore wolf populations through reintroduction programs and federal protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). However, these conservation efforts have faced opposition from some ranchers, hunters, and landowners who still feel that wolves pose a threat to farming and game populations.

This has led to debates, legal battles, and contentious state and federal policies regarding wolf management, including delisting them from ESA protection in certain areas. The war on wolves in the United States has now become an ongoing struggle between conservationists seeking to protect and restore wolf populations and stakeholders with competing interests and concerns who hope to get rid of them.[5]

5 The Beaver Wars

What Were The Beaver Wars?

The beaver wars were a series of conflicts that took place in colonial America during the 17th century. They were fought over control of the lucrative fur trade between various Native American tribes, French settlers, and European traders. Whoever had access to the precious beavers and their skins would score a financial victory.

The Iroquois Confederation (comprised of several tribes) emerged as a dominant force, gaining control of the fur trade, eliminating rival tribes, and launching attacks on French settlements.

The French and their Native American allies responded with counterattacks on Iroquois villages and English settlements. The conflicts lasted for nearly a century and concluded with the Peace of Montreal treaty in 1701, bringing an end to the beaver wars.[6]

4 Roman Venationes

How did the Romans Capture Animals for the Colosseum?

Venationes, which translates to “animal hunts” in Latin, were a popular form of public entertainment in ancient Rome. These events took place in amphitheaters and featured contests either between animals or men and animals. The participants were usually captives, criminals, or professional animal hunters.

Originating in the 2nd century BC as part of the circus games, venationes gained such popularity that Roman General Julius Caesar even constructed the first wooden amphitheater specifically to show them. The demand grew so great that animals like lions, bears, bulls, hippopotamuses, panthers, and crocodiles were all sourced from around the world to be exhibited and slaughtered during public celebrations. As many as 11,000 animals were showcased and killed.

These shows continued to exist even after gladiator shows were abolished in the 5th century. Depictions of venationes can be found on coins, mosaics, and tombs from that period, demonstrating their significance in Roman culture.[7]

3 The Elephant Soldiers in the Battle of Zama

The Battle of Zama (202 B.C.E.)

The Battle of Zama in 202 BC was fought by the Romans, led by Scipio Africanus the Elder, against the Carthaginians commanded by Hannibal. It marked the final part of the Second Punic War.

Hannibal’s army relied heavily on 80 war elephants—that were not fully trained—and Carthaginian recruits with limited combat experience.

When the Carthaginians unleashed their elephants upon the Roman infantry, these mighty beasts were swiftly dispersed due to Scipio’s strategic arrangement of small and agile infantry units known as maniples with open spaces between them. This allowed Roman soldiers to step aside when the elephants charged.

The thunderous shouts and blaring trumpets of the Romans are believed to have disoriented the elephants, causing some to divert from their course and unintentionally attack their own infantry.

By effectively countering the elephant charge, the Romans gained a significant advantage in the Battle of Zama, contributing to their ultimate victory. Their win meant the end of Hannibal’s control over Carthaginian forces and severely weakened Carthage’s ability to resist Rome.[8]

2 The Australian “Mouse Plague”

Millions of Mice Are Terrorizing Australia

Australia experienced one of the worst mouse plagues in recent history in 2021, with significant damage to crops and widespread infestation. The outbreak was attributed to favorable weather conditions creating an abundance of food following a period of drought and devastating bushfires.

The house mouse, introduced to Australia in the late 1700s, has always posed a threat to native species as it competes for the same resources as them.

This plague caused damage estimated at around AU$1 billion, leading to financial support from the government as well as the exploration of control methods such as gene editing to reduce their numbers. While this plague ended at the end of 2021, people have been warned not to “get complacent,” as it could happen again.[9]

1 The Bear Soldier in the Battle of Monte Cassino

The Story of Wojtek | The Polish Military Bear

During World War II, an orphaned Syrian brown bear named Wojtek became an unlikely companion to the Polish II Corps, and those he battled with were likely to be unaware of his existence.

Raised by the soldiers, Wojtek traveled with them through the Middle East and eventually to Italy. Despite the initial difficulties of bringing a bear on board, he was enlisted as “Private Wojtek” and became an official member of the regiment.

Wojtek quickly endeared himself to the other recruits, participating in their activities and even assisting them during the Battle of Monte Cassino by carrying ammunition. His contributions were so admired that he was promoted to the rank of corporal.

After the war, Wojtek accompanied his comrades to Scotland, where he lived on a farm and became a beloved figure in the community.

He attended events, appeared on TV shows, and enjoyed a peaceful life until he died in 1963.

Wojtek’s remarkable story has been immortalized through films, books, and statues in Poland and Britain. His service was seen as a testament to the enduring bond between humans and animals during times of adversity.[10]

fact checked by Darci Heikkinen