Saturday, May 24, 2008

Animals at War - Strange but True

Ever heard of bomb sniffing rats? Or Frogman killing dolphins? How about landmine detecting bees? Humans have a great appreciation for the natural abilities of animals. That appreciation can lead to bizarre, inhumane and occasionally, benignly beneficial uses of animals in wartime.

The Bizarre: History is replete with tales of dolphins rescuing humans from the perils of the sea. Relying on the dolphin's natural curiosity and affinity to humans, the US Navy began the "swimmer nullification plan." Attaching hypodermics filled with compressed CO2 to the dolphin's nose, the marine mammals were trained to find divers swimming in restricted areas and inject them. Getting injected with compressed CO2 kills you, and it also makes your body float to the surface so you're easily retrievable. Supposedly 40 Viet Cong frogmen were killed this way.

The Inhumane: Over the course of thousands of wars, numerous types of animals have been used as living incendiaries. Cats, dogs, pigs, rats, even camels have all been lit on fire and pointed at the enemy. Of course nothing prevented these animals from turning around and running back through the host forces (makes you cheer a bit). Needless to say, the practice ultimately fell out of favor.

Unfortunately, militaries discovered safer (for them) ways to use animals to decimate enemy forces. What did they do? They strapped bombs to them. Tank dogs were trained to run under enemy tanks where their bomb harnesses would be detonated. Free-tailed bats were strapped with timed incendiary devices. The plan was to release them over Japan where their natural instinct would cause them to roost in the eaves of factories and warehouses. Once there, the timing devices would go off, causing the bat, and hopefully the building, to catch fire. Cats, wearing small explosives, were to be dropped over enemy ships. With their natural dislike of water, the cats would be sure to land on the ships and then could be exploded. Thankfully, most of these projects went nowhere. The bats escaped, burning down an Air Force hanger and blowing up a general's car. The cats, mercifully, lost consciousness soon after they were ejected from the planes.

The gathering strength of worldwide Animal Rights Groups has largely brought an end to such schemes.

The Benignly Beneficial: Glow worms were used in the trenches of WWI to create enough light for soldiers to read maps by. Gambian Pouch Rats, with their incredible sense of smell, are being used to sniff out landmines. Their small size protects them from triggering the mechanisms. The rats are currently clearing mines from much needed farm land along the coast of Mozambique. Bees are also helping to find long buried landmines. Having been fed trace elements used in the making of explosives, the bees naturally swarm around buried mines that leak these elements into the atmosphere. Small "backpacks" attached to the bees help humans determine where the bees are congregating. Once the humans arrive, they can dig up and dispose of the mine. The amount of bees needed to create a hive of landmine seekers costs about $100. The bees can be trained in less than 3 hours and have a 98% success rate of finding long buried and forgotten landmines.

Of course we know what would be best for animals as well as humans with regard to the practice of war, but conflict will occur. More than likely, our need for animal helpers in battles will also occur. Hopefully it will only be in a benignly beneficial way.

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