Updated 04 March 2015

How to help animals caught in the fire

With the Cape Fires showing no signs of slowing, the thoughts of many have turned to the animals and other wildlife caught in the flames. What are they going through and how can you help?


Over the past few days, terrible veld fires have swept through the Southern Peninsula of Cape Town affecting Noordhoek, Hout Bay, Muizenberg, Lakeside, Tokai and Camps Bay with many residents in the affected areas on standby to evacuate.

Today, the 3rd of March, marks World Wildlife Day but instead of celebrating conservation, Capetonians are forced to sit back and watch helplessly as thousands of hectares of their beautiful mountain vegetation go up in flames.

Whilst us humans are lucky enough to anticipate the danger and evacuate safely, wild animals, birds and reptiles are not so lucky.

While the extent of the affect on the wildlife in the region is not yet known, many are anticipating the worst. As the fires are put out in certain areas,operations can begin to rescue, treat and rehabilitate injured animals.

One particularly shocking image has gone viral on social media, moving many to tears. It depicts a tortoise "frozen" like a statue by the fire. The photo (see below) has left many saddened by the suffering that is being endured by so many creatures.

Tortoises, particularly the Angulate tortoise that is commonly found in the Western Cape, are increasingly under threat and the need to protect them is widely recognised.

To get a better understanding of what happens when fauna is affected by veld fires, Health24 spoke to Dr. Colin Levitan from Tygerberg Animal Hospital in Belville.

He explained that all animals with higher function (brain and a nervous system) will experience pain similar to what humans would experience if burnt. It becomes more difficult to comment on whether insects experience pain as it is not so easy to assess.

Animals caught up in veld fires may injure themselves while trying to escape. Another great concern is smoke inhalation. Similar to humans, this might worsen the prognosis of a burnt animal.

How you can help

The Cape of Good Hope SPCA has taken to their Facebook page to warn members of the public about wildlife rescue operations. They explain that walking in burnt areas can be dangerous due to "flare-ups" and smouldering vegetation.

However, if you do come across an animal that sustained a burn wound, Dr. Levitan explains that the same principles of management that are used in humans can be attempted:

  1.        Remove the animal from the source (fires, burning coals) ONLY if your own life will not be endangered!
  2.        Applying ice to the wound might lessen the pain. Pain medication is vital
  3.        Contacting your local vet or the SPCA to evaluate the animal is important
  4.        Beware of wild animals – as they are distressed they may act irrationally

The prognosis of burn wounds in animals really depend on the severity of the burn. In the case of mild, superficial burns, the animal usually does very well. 

With second degree or third degree burns the prognosis is usually not that good. The animal usually goes into shock and this might halter the recovery of the animal. Dr Levitan noted wild animals that sustained severe burns are usually euthanised because the emotional distress (of the injury itself and the sudden contact with humans), the extend of the burn wounds and the accompanying circulatory shock poses a very poor prognosis.

FOUR PAWS South Africa has some suggestions for those wanting to help:


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