All Creatures Innocent of Blame

The bombing toll on domestic pets and farm animals is never spoken of, but it was a slaughter of momentous proportion. Horses burned alive at various stud farms or were simply let loose (see “Horses” on the East Prussia section of site), cattle were blown to pieces, sheep literally cooked in the fields and thousands of pets were lost, lamed, blinded, orphaned and even eaten out of desperation. For zoos it was hellish. Zoo animals were bombed or later slaughtered and plundered at war’s end. The few survivors starved or died of cold.

Famous animal trainer, Otto Sailer-Jackson ran the Dresden Zoo watched in horror as a wave of bombing set the zoo ablaze:

“The elephants gave spine-chilling screams. Their house was still standing but an explosive bomb of terrific force had landed behind it, lifted the dome of the house, turned it round, and put it back on again... The baby cow elephant was lying in the moat on her back with her legs helplessly reaching up toward the sky, suffering severe stomach injuries unable to move. The hippopotamuses were drowned when debris pinned them to the bottom of their water basin. In the ape house, a gibbon reached out to the trainer, only bloody stumps left of its arms. Nearly forty rhesus monkeys escaped to the trees but were dead by the next day from drinking water polluted by the incendiary chemicals. The next day, a U.S. aircraft pilot flew in low, firing at anything he could see was still alive... In this way, our last giraffe met her death. Many stags and others animals which we had saved became victims of this hero.”

The Munich Hellabrunn was likewise attacked and nearly destroyed. Adji, the first African elephant born here died in a 1943 American bombing along with several other animals. The Hamm zoo was victim in 1944, and the Tiergarten Nürnberg lost almost all buildings and enclosures and many of its animals died. The Zoologischen Garten Dusseldorf was bombed repeatedly and completely destroyed November 2, 1944 with over 200 bomb craters to bear witness.

Some of the murdered animals were endangered, and had traditionally been studied, housed and bred in these zoos. The Schomburgk’s deer may once have occurred as far north as China and Laos, but thrived with certainty in south-central Thailand. Now considered extinct, a handful of these deer had been kept in captivity and in 1870, the Hamburg Zoological Garden was the first zoo to actually breed these animals. None survived in captivity and the Hamburg zoo did not survive the war.

Many zoo animals were frantically moved to zoos authorities believed were in safer locations. The zoo in Wuppertal, although only slightly damaged by bombing, had no choice but to order their starving animals either shot or sent to other zoos, notably their emaciated lions.

The wonderful old zoo at Frankfurt, first planned in 1859, was another senseless casualty and was destroyed in a single night on March 18, 1944. All buildings except the bear castle were bombed to the cellar. High-explosive bombs smashed the seal pools, the aquarium and the office housing all of the historic archives. In the burning carnivore house, the cats had to be shot, as did an elephant who had been directly hit by an incendiary bomb. Only 20 larger exotic animals survived.

In turn, Wisents evacuated from Frankfurt were killed later when their new home at the Heidelberg Zoo was needlessly bombed at the tail-end of the war in March 1945.

Europe’s bison and largest land mammal is the Wisent. The last wild bison in East Prussia was killed by poachers in 1755. Some were alive in Poland until the First World War devastated Europe. The last Polish bison reportedly died in 1921, and yet still there were stragglers elsewhere, and at an International Conservation Congress in Paris in 1923, zoologists argued for the conservation of this European bison. Zoologists Heinz and Lutz Heck led a tough fight for the survival of the species by attempting to breed them in captivity in zoos.

Dr. Kurt Priemel of the Frankfurt zoo listened and the International Society for the Conservation of the European Bison was founded. For the first time in zoo history it was realized that zoos can preserve species by cooperation. There were soon 56 pure-blood animals held in zoos and of those, 22 breeding. They slowly but surely multiplied until World War II broke out and again decimated their numbers, while at the same time, the last wild ones were poached for food. After the war, 98 pure bred bison reportedly remained worldwide.

Only now are they recovering from the ravages of war. Today, more than 1,800 bison survive in the wild, spread across Poland, Belarus, Russia, Lithuania and Ukraine. Nearly 1,200 animals are kept in breeding and show cages and zoos. Poland and Germany have led the rescue effort.

In 1939, the gorgeous Berlin Zoo kept over 4,000 mammals and over 1,400 species of birds. Their famous elephant house was totally destroyed by a bombing on November 22, 1943. Before the first bombs fell, however, a bull had escaped from his open pen and began pacing back and fourth trumpeting his impending doom. He had to be shot. Not satisfied with one dead elephant, a few days later, on November 26-27, the British struck again and Blockbuster bombs resulted in the escape of several large and potentially dangerous animals: leopards, panthers, jaguars and apes.

They grew frantic. Monkeys found themselves trapped in burning treetops, stunned lions ambled through parks, and large snakes slithered through the crowds of desperate people fleeing fires and bombs. The animals had to be hunted and shot in the streets during and after the bombing raids in the midst of this Armageddon.

Out of 3,715 animals representing 1,400 species living at the grand old Berlin Zoo, only 91 animals remained alive by war’s end.

Note: Bomb damage to zoological collections was astronomic as well. Part of Berlin’s Humboldt-Universität was the Museum für Naturkunde, the first national museum in the world, with a massive collection of more than 25 million zoological, paleontological, and minerological specimens, including the largest mounted dinosaur in the world and the best preserved specimen of the earliest known bird. Established in 1810, its priceless collections contain objects from three major fields, paleontology, mineralogy, and zoology. The priceless mineral collections represented 75% of the minerals in the world and attracted researchers from around the world. The collections were horribly damaged by the Allied bombing of Berlin and much of the rest was then lost to plunder.

The oldest public Zoo in the world is at the Tiergarten Schönbrunn in Vienna. Even before 1570, there was a wild park in Vienna, and during the reign of Maria Theresia, the Menagerie Schönbrunn was improved substantially, eventually opening to the public, to “decently dressed persons.” In 1778, the menagerie, castle and the park, opened initially on Sundays only. Under Emperor Franz II/I, Schönbrunn received its first giraffe as a gift from the Viceroy of Egypt in 1828.

World War I food shortages had reduced the zoo population 85% to only 400 animals, but with hard work, the zoo was brought back to life. Then, seven weeks before the end of World War II, 300 bombs hit the zoo and Castle Park, 200 of them in animal enclosures, murdering many animals, included a beloved rhino bull who used to allowed his keeper to ride on his back. Consequent aerial bombing attack destroyed most of the zoo. Of 3,500 animals only 1,500 lived.

The First World War had also been difficult in Germany as well, and the hunger blockades inflicted by Britain brought most German zoos to the verge of bankruptcy. Most of the Hamburg Zoo’s monkeys, for example, starved to death by the war’s end, as did most animals dependent on either fresh fish or exotic fruits. Two chimpanzees survived the war, only to be lost to the influenza epidemic at the end of the war. Several zoo animals were eaten by a starving civilian population.

The Tierpark Hagenbeck is a private zoo in Hamburg which began in 1863 by Carl Hagenbeck Sr., a fish seller and amateur animal collector. The park itself was the first zoo to use open enclosures surrounded by moats, rather than barred cages, to better approximate animals’ natural environments. During World War One, many of the keepers were drafted into the army and some of Hagenbeck’s animals were rented out for use as draught animals for hauling coal and wood on home deliveries. It was not unusual to see elephants and trained bears yoked to heavy wagons as draft animals. The zoo closed for two years after the war as Germany entered into a deep depression, then reopened and improved, bring in visitors from around the world. Then came the bombing of Hamburg.

On July 24, 1943 Allied air raids destroyed three quarters of the zoo in 90 minutes, killing 9 men and 450 animals. From “Animals Are My Life,” by Lorenz Hagenbeck: “The worst part of it, however, was the fire, which was now quite beyond control. When the first incendiaries came down on the roof of the elephant house and this burst into flames, our resourceful chief keeper, Fritz Theisinger, quickly loosed his fourteen elephants, which he had kept tethered by only one hind leg, and led them outside. There they could try to avoid the incendiaries which were falling everywhere, and they took refuge in the large pool. Next, aided by the Czech P.O.W.s, he made an attempt to save the house, but at this point the P.O.W.s lost their nerve and ran away.”

Above: Elephant house Berlin Zoo 1844; Old Frankfurt Zoo.
Below, top row: Berlin Zoo 1945. Bottom row: Wuppertal Zoo; Frankfurt Zoo bombed;
Starving cats; The first giraffe in Vienna

Hamburg zoo animals put to use after the war

There appears to be a scientific aversion to study the effects of the massive campaign of aerial bombing on life forms in general and an avoidance of the subject. The ‘North Sea ‘Houtings’ were fish found in the Rhine, Meuse and Schelde rivers (Coregonus maraena) which are now considered globally extinct, the last individual being caught in the lower Rhine in the early 1940s before the massive bombing attacks devastated its environment. In fact, much of the vast ecological disaster created by the Allied bombs has not received the scrutiny it deserves. One only has to look at what took place in Helgoland (in bombing index) to realize the extent of destruction.

Helgoland (Heligoland) is on a major migration route for birds crossing the North Sea, and in the early 19th century became a source of bird specimens for collectors and museums. Ornithologist and artist Heinrich Gätke moved to the island in 1841 and remained there for the next sixty years studying the birds and collecting rare specimens for both artists and scientists. He coined the term “Vogelwarte” and produced the book “Die Vogelwarte Helgoland” based on his research. A modern observatory was established in 1910 by Hugo Weigold with a systematic trapping and banding program using the “Heligoland traps” he developed. There is no question that most species of migratory and native birds on Helgoland must have been drastically affected by the cataclysmic bombing of the habitat, but little is written on the subject.

And nobody today has probably ever heard of the Entomological Society of Stettin, or indeed, of “Stettin” itself, which has been recreated as being historically Polish and redubbed “Szczecin.” Stettin was the historical capital of the Prussian province of Pomerania, which was German for almost all of modern history and stretched almost to Danzig. This stately and intellectual city was the residence of the dukes of Pomerania and once an important member of the Hanseatic League. Based here was the Entomological Society of Stettin (Entomologischer Verein zu Stettin) formed in 1839 and the leading entomological society of the 19th century. Most German entomologists were members, as were many from England, Sweden, Italy, France, and Spain.

The society had vast, extensive collections and a very comprehensive library, all of which were destroyed by bombing and looting as the city and area suddenly became “ancestral Polish lands” and stolen by the communists. Yet, one hears nary a reproach for the scientific loss to the world.

In other areas, however, scientists are starting to look back at the effects of war on the earth, its creatures and our climate. Rob MacKenzie led a recent study at the Lancaster Environment Centre in the United Kingdom on the contrails created by Allied bombing runs and their effect on the weather. The the researchers found that the contrails from these aircraft significantly suppressed the morning temperature increase across areas with a high density of flights since they have complex effects on the Earth’s surface temperature. “This is tantalizing evidence that Second World War bombing raids can be used to help us understand processes affecting contemporary climate,” MacKenzie said.

Other scientists discuss depth charges and naval warfare’s effect on weather: The winter of 1939/40 brought sudden and unexpected arctic conditions from Southern England to Stockholm. A.J. Drummond, a scientist from Kew Observatory at Richmond, expressed surprise at this unusual phenomenon in 1943 when he wrote: “The present century has been marked by such a wide-spread tendency towards mild winters that the ‘old-fashioned winters,’ of which one has heard so much, seemed to have disappeared for ever. The sudden arrival at the end of 1939 of what was considered to be the beginning of a series of cold winters was therefore all the more surprising. Since the winters of 1878-79, 1879-80 and 1880-81, there have never been such severe winters, three in succession, as those of 1939-40, 1940-41 and 1941-42.” From Arnd Bernaert’s ‘Climate Change & Naval War – A Scientific Assessment.’

More Environmental Toxins: Continue to UXBs

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Encyclopedia of the World’s Zoos, Volume 3  By Catharine Bell
Geschichte des Tierparks Hellabrunn in München [Hippos by the Isar. A history of the Hellabrunn zoological garden in Munich. München: Buchendorfer.
Heck, L. “Mein Abenteuer. Erlebnisse in Wildnis und Zoo.”  1952; Wien
Hansen et al.1999; Freyhof & Schöter, 2005
Bernaert, A. “Climate Change & Naval War – A Scientific Assessment”  Trafford Publishing Victoria, BC Canada
Hagenbeck, L. “Animals Are My Life”
“Campaign Diary.” Royal Air Force Bomber Command 60th Anniversary. 1944: June, July, August, September, October, November, December. 1945: March, April and May