Animals in war

November 2018...

marks 100 years since the end of the First World War. On this anniversary, we remember the people and animals that lost their lives during this terrible conflict.

©Imperial War Museum
©Imperial War Museum

More than 16 million...

horses, donkeys and other animals were made to serve during the war, transporting everything from ammunition and messages to food rations and supplies. They hauled guns and pulled ambulances, while cavalry horses often led the charge on the front line. Tragically, nine million of these animals were killed.


continue to be innocent victims in brutal conflicts across the world today and, in recent years, SPANA has worked in war zones – from Kosovo and Iraq to Afghanistan – to provide urgent veterinary treatment to animals in severe distress.

Animals in conflict timeline

Take a look at the timeline below to discover more about the impact of war on animals over the past century.

1914-1918 – First World War

More than 16 million animals were made to serve on all sides, with nine million killed (including eight million horses, mules and donkeys)

100,000 homing pigeons carried messages to and from the trenches

During the British Army’s desert campaign in Sinai and Palestine, 50,000 transport camels carrying water, and mounted camel regiments (including the Imperial Camel Corps) formed the largest camel force the world has seen

7,000 horses died in one day alone at the Battle of Verdun

Britain had over one million horses and mules in service (over the course of the war Britain lost more than 484,000 horses)

The British Army Veterinary Corps gained the ‘Royal’ prefix for its efforts in mitigating animal suffering. This was the first war in which a trained veterinary service existed

1936-1939 – Spanish Civil War

The war saw the demise of roughly half of Spanish livestock, and post-war Spain had to import thousands of working mules from overseas

1939-1945 – Second World War

Britain became the first nation to motorise its army, and had begun to replace horse cavalry with armoured vehicles in 1928

Over 750,000 domestic pets were killed in Britain in one week following a government public information campaign about their safety and expected food shortages

The German Army on the Eastern Front lost 179,000 horses in two months

The British Army still employed 6,500 horses, 10,000 mules and 1,700 camels. In total, 200,000 animals – also including dogs and pigeons – were put into service by Britain

The British and Japanese in Burma used elephants for transport, building bridges and roads, and for pulling trucks out of the mud

14,000 mules were used by US military in northern Italy, and China used more than 20,000 mules in battles against the Japanese

1950-1953 – Korean War

Chinese and North Korean forces used mules to transport supplies, including during the 1951 Spring Offensive against South Korea

1955-1975 – Vietnam War

Use of Agent Orange to eliminate forest cover destroyed the habitats of tigers, Asian elephants, gibbons, civets, leopards and other species. At least 40,000 animals were killed by unexploded landmines in the 20 years following the war

1977-1992 – Mozambique Civil War

Giraffe and elephant herds in the Gorongosa National Park shrank by 90 per cent

1980-1988 – Iran-Iraq War

Populations of wild goat, wolves, otters, pelicans, striped hyenas, river dolphins and other wildlife were wiped out or reached the point of extinction

1983-2005 – Sudanese Civil War

South Sudan’s elephant population fell from 100,000 to 5,000

1990s – Afghan War

Over 75,000 animals were lost due to mines – more than half of the total livestock population

1990-1991 – Gulf War

More than 80 per cent of livestock in Kuwait died, including 790,000 sheep, 12,500 cows and 2,500 horses

A deliberate oil leak into the Persian Gulf by Iraqi troops caused the deaths of up to 230,000 aquatic animals and birds, while 100 mammals were killed

1998-1999 – Kosovo War

Kosovo’s cattle population reduced from 400,000 to 200,000

2001-present – War in Afghanistan

Military dogs supported British Special Forces operations. The UK Ministry of Defence said the role of the 11,000 dogs working across the armed forces ‘cannot be underestimated.’

2003-2011 – Iraq War

Insurgents commonly strapped bombs to dogs to target convoys and used donkeys to pull carts of explosives for the same purpose

2014 – Gaza Conflict

20 per cent of the animal population estimated to be lost – including 15,000 missing sheep and goats