The use of animals in service based industries such as the military, the navy, police forces, airport security and many more is a relatively common practice. However the animals employed in the militia are a far cry from the furry compatriots we associate with the police force or airport security – both of which predominantly use dogs. The military in particular has an interesting history of animal use and employment for a multitude of services – most of which predated the introduction of modern technology and machinery. Over the course of history, these have included dogs, cats, pigeons, pigs, horses, elephants, bears, bats, dolphins, whales and sea lions. Horses are often the first animal after dogs to come to mind when thinking of animals used in the military, as many wars were fought on horseback, perhaps most famously were the Mongolian horses that played a key role in Genghis Khan’s takeover and subsequent reign as the Great Khan of the Mongol Empire. The horses were essential to the soldiers and provided everything from transport to nourishment when need be.
Dogs were not the only ‘domesticated’ animal to play a role in military combat, in the 1960s, cats were the focus of a CIA project aimed at spying on the Soviet Union. They did this by implanting microphones into the cats’ ear canals, with a corresponding radio transmitter at the base of the cats’ skull. The project was eventually abandoned, largely due to the fact that the cats did not train well, and in actuality it just wasn’t feasible. From small to large, a diverse menagerie of mammals and animals were used by militaries and the navies alike. In India, elephants became a familiar sight as part of the military ensemble. However, elephants have been part of armies and militia since ancient times and were also used by the likes of Porus (Prince of India) who used elephants in the battle of Hydaspes against Alexander the Great. Hannibal was another historical notary who used war elephants in order to intimidate and defeat his opponents on the battlefield – although wielding an elephant is easier said than done.
In 1967, the US Navy launched the US Navy Marine Mammal Program in earnest after years of studying and testing over a dozen marine species and mammals including a variety of dolphins, sharks, sea turtles, rays, marine birds and sea lions. The program, which up until the 1990s was classified, principally used Bottlenose Dolphins and California Sea lions for the purposes of detection and recovery of objects in harbours, coastal regions and even in the open sea. Dolphins in particular, are known for their sonar abilities which make them particularly adept at detecting underwater threats such as sea mines that electronic sonar may have missed. Both the sea lions and the dolphins are also used to assist navy and harbour security in detecting and preventing unauthorised divers from entering navy bases.
Most recently, a beluga whale wearing a harness with a GoPro mount was spotted by fisherman off the coast of Norway. Upon closer inspection, it was determined that the harness was the “Equipment of St. Petersburg”, which sparked much speculation as to whether or not the beluga whale had been trained as a Russian spy. While this has yet to be confirmed, it is not unheard of for Russia to also train and use beluga whales, dolphins and sea lions as part of their navy. In 2017 Russia’s Ministry of Defence invested in “new fighters” for their “underwater special forces” which included beluga whales, five bottlenose dolphins as well as harp and ring seals.
Despite the on-going controversy and ethical conundrum surrounding the use of animals in militaries and navies around the world, it seems that in some instances animal instinct is still king.