Sad wild animal facts

wild animals
wild animal suffering
A collection of facts about wild animals that make me sad.

March 11, 2024

Let us understand, once for all, that the ethical process of society depends, not on imitating the cosmic process, still less on running away from it, but in combating it.

Thomas Huxley

This post serves to illustrate why I agree with the quote above. Below I list examples of what happens in nature that I think are just horrible and that I wish we could do something about.

The list is not complete and I intend to continuously update it when I encounter more sad facts.

Last updated: May 29, 2024


Meadow vole

Scientific name: Microtus pennsylvanicus

One study found that only 12% of meadow voles survive the first month, with most voles likely dying due to predation (Clutton-Brock et al., 1998).


Scientific name: Pongo pygmaeus

Male orangutans frequently force female orangutans to mate with them (Mitani, 1985).


Scientific name: Suricata suricatta

Dominant females commonly kill pups born to subordinates and temporarily expel subordinate females from the group during the latter months of their own pregnancy (Turner et al., 2022).

Bottlenose dolphin

Scientific name: Tursiops truncatus

Bottlenose dolphins have been found to kill harbor porpoises, plausibly to practice their infanticide skills or to maintain their fighting skills (Cotter et al., 2012).


Scientific name: Pan troglodytes

Intergroup aggression, including lethal attacks, is a pervasive feature of chimpanzee societies (Wilson & Wrangham, 2003).


Scientific name: Pan troglodytes

Both male and female chimpanzees kill infants (Townsend et al., 2007).


Brown-headed cowbird

Scientific name: Molothrus ater

Cowbirds lay their eggs in the nests of other birds and display ‘mafia’ like behavior by destroying eggs or nestlings of hosts if they eject their eggs (Hoover & Robinson, 2007).

Common cuckoo

Scientific name: Cuculus canorus

The common cuckoo female lays one egg is the nest of other birds and usually removes and eats one of the host’s eggs. In general, the cuckoo egg hatches before those of the host and the cuckoo chicks start evicting host offspring from the nest (Martín-Gálvez et al., 2005).


Scientific name: Anas platyrhynchos

Mallards forcibly mate with females (McKinney & Evarts, 1998).


Forelius pusillus

Scientific name: Forelius pusillus

In the Brazilian ant Forelius pusillus, the nest entrance is closed at sunset. One to eight workers finish the job from the outside and, in doing so, sacrifice their lives (Tofilski et al., 2008).


Desert spider

Scientific name: Stegodyphus lineatus

The offspring of the desert spider eat their own mother (Salomon et al., 2015).


Sand tiger shark

Scientific name: Carcharias taurus

During their pregnancy, the most developed embryo will feed on its siblings (Gilmore et al., 1983).


Clutton-Brock, T. H., P. N. M., B., Smith, R., McIlrath, G. M., Kansky, R., Gaynor, D., O’Riain, M. J., & Skinner, J. D. (1998). Infanticide and expulsion of females in a cooperative mammal. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences, 265(1412), 2291–2295.
Cotter, M. P., Maldini, D., & Jefferson, T. A. (2012). Porpicide in California: Killing of harbor porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) by coastal bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). Marine Mammal Science, 28(1).
Gilmore, R. G., Dodrill, J. W., & Linley, P. A. (1983). Reproduction and embryonic development of the sand tiger shark, Odontaspis taurus (Rafinesque). Fishery Bulletin, 8(2), 201–225.
Hoover, J. P., & Robinson, S. K. (2007). Retaliatory mafia behavior by a parasitic cowbird favors host acceptance of parasitic eggs. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104(11), 4479–4483.
Martín-Gálvez, D., Soler, M., Soler, J. J., Martín-Vivaldi, M., & Palomino, J. J. (2005). Food acquisition by common cuckoo chicks in rufous bush robin nests and the advantage of eviction behaviour. Animal Behaviour, 70(6), 1313–1321.
McKinney, F., & Evarts, S. (1998). Sexual coercion in waterfowl and other birds. Ornithological Monographs, 49, 163–195.
Mitani, J. C. (1985). Mating behaviour of male orangutans in the Kutai Game Reserve, Indonesia. Animal Behaviour, 33(2), 392–402.
Salomon, M., Aflalo, E. D., Coll, M., & Lubin, Y. (2015). Dramatic histological changes preceding suicidal maternal care in the subsocial spider Stegodyphus lineatus (Araneae: Eresidae). Journal of Arachnology, 43(1), 77–85.
Tofilski, A., Couvillon, Margaret J., Evison, Sophie E.  F., Helanterä, H., Robinson, Elva J.  H., & Ratnieks, Francis L.  W. (2008). Preemptive defensive self-sacrifice by ant workers. The American Naturalist, 172(5), E239–E243.
Townsend, S. W., Slocombe, K. E., Thompson, M. E., & Zuberbühler, K. (2007). Female-led infanticide in wild chimpanzees. Current Biology, 17(10), PR355–R356.
Turner, A. M., Hauber, M. E., & Reichard, D. G. (2022). Twenty-two years of brood parasitism data do not support the mafia hypothesis in an accepter host of the Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater). Journal of Field Ornithology, 93(4), art4.
Wilson, M. L., & Wrangham, R. W. (2003). Intergroup relations in chimpanzees. Annual Review of Anthropology, 32, 363–392.