The crackle, fizz and burst of fireworks exploding overhead in a shower of intense color is considered the highlight of many parties and celebrations. But have you ever taken a moment to imagine how your local wildlife feels?
Fear, including the fear of loud noises, is deeply rooted in the evolutionary history of all animals. Escaping from dangerous situations increases survival. For example, hiding from severe thunderstorms and running away from the sound of falling rocks could save an animal’s life.
But there is nowhere to hide from the fireworks. How must it be for the wild animals that delight us on walks and picnics to be faced with such an inevitable barrage of sounds?
Unfortunately, scientists don’t know much about the impact of fireworks on animals as they are difficult to observe at night. But what we have learned is alarming. Our recent study, one of the first to study how fireworks affect wildlife, showed that physically distressed animals, in this case geese, were caused by New Year’s fireworks.
Physiological responses can be good measures of emotional arousal in animals, allowing researchers to assess whether animals are relaxed or scared. Increased heart rate and body temperature are reliable measures of stress. In the long run, increased emotional stimulation is an indicator of poor animal welfare.
Our study investigated the physiological responses of wild geese in response to New Year’s Eve fireworks in a rural area of Austria. We equipped 20 wild geese with transmitters, which recorded a two-minute average of heart rate and core body temperature.
Daily heart rate and body temperature patterns were compared between each hour on December 31st, January 1st, mean values for December and mean values for January. In the first hour of the year (when the fireworks peak) the heart rate and body temperature of the geese are increased.
Compared to the December average values, the hourly average heart rate increased from 63 to 124 beats per minute (a 96% increase). The average hourly body temperature increased from 38 ° C to 39 ° C. Heart rate returned to baseline levels between 2:00 and 3:00 on January 1, while body temperature did not drop until around 5:00.
Physiological responses may be due to geese taking flight during fireworks. They circled over their perching area, until they landed again, a serious disturbance of their night’s rest. It is also a waste of precious energy during a time of year when food is scarce.
Interestingly, there were pronounced differences between some subjects and some geese showed no increase in heart rate and body temperature in response to the fireworks. This suggests that, like dogs, some wild animals are less afraid than others.
Our findings echo other examples of how fireworks can affect birds. One study showed that thousands of birds took flight at altitudes of 500 meters for 45 minutes after the New Year’s Eve fireworks in the Netherlands between 2007 and 2010, well above their daytime flight altitude, the which shows how disruptive the fireworks were.
In 2021, hundreds of dead starlings were found after the New Year celebrations in Rome. The exact reasons they died are unknown, but we know that loud noises cause animals to panic that could be deadly if they hit obstacles or get lost and separate from their flock.
We also know that wild animals suffer from chronic stress, fertility problems and change their migration routes in response to noise. Animals can also be more sensitive to noise than humans and have different hearing ranges.
Read more: Noise pollution is harming animals and we don’t even know how much
Fireworks and pets
Many pet owners are keenly aware of the effects of sounds and light on their companions. In a 2019 study using an online survey, 52% of dog owners said their pets were afraid of fireworks, displaying behaviors such as panting, shaking, hiding, and running away.
Noise sensitivity can develop in puppy dogs, but it can also have a genetic basis, with some breeds more affected than others. For example, Great Danes were among the least fearful of loud noises, and the Norweigan buhund was among the most scared breeds in a 2015 study comparing 17 breeds.
The research also found that cats, horses, rabbits and guinea pigs are afraid of fireworks.
The effects of fireworks on the welfare of less common pets such as parrots, reptiles and amphibians or even fish have not been scientifically studied at all.
Given what we’re learning about the effect of fireworks on wildlife, it’s no surprise that some places ban them altogether.
In 2021, the popular UK holiday company Center Parcs decided to permanently cancel all fireworks to protect wildlife and instead light up the forests of their holiday camps with an Enchanted Light Garden. Herefordshire Council banned loud fireworks launched from council-owned land in January 2022, in part in response to animal welfare concerns.
There has also been a growing acceptance of alternatives to fireworks, such as laser shows or drones. The world market for drone light shows is projected to grow 18.2% through 2027. Perhaps as the impact of fireworks on animals becomes clearer, such technological solutions will become even more popular.
This article was republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
Claudia Wascher does not work, consult, own stock or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic tenure.