Ecocide and PTSD by Sara Wright

The fierce light of the white star pierced her thick white fur as the mother froze. She was trying to imagine how her cubs could make the jump from one jagged ice flow to another in the cracked deep blue waters.

Just a few months ago she had birthed them on solid well frozen ice – cubs who knew nothing but nurture – feelings of safety, love, rich abundant milk   – trusting their mother implicitly – the solid blue ice that supported them was home. Now her children faced the threat of death by drowning… A mountain of despair flooded the bear’s mind and body. Blind fear slammed through her young. To lose her cubs was more than the mother could bear. All the accumulated bear wisdom – 50 million years of bear knowing – could not help her now. Her children were helpless.

A polar bear that is forced to confront a situation like this one will live with consequences that will change her life. Nothing has prepared her for this day.  Just how she will be affected we do not know…but developing PTSD is a possibility/probability. (Her children, if they survive will have a 1 -3 chance of developing this disorder as well).

According to the most recent research in Neuroscience/Neuropsychology PTSD is a physiological state brought on by sudden trauma, or prolonged trauma that stretches back to childhood. Either way this trauma affects the individual at a cellular level, pre-disposing that animal or person to experience the world through a “darker lens”, one that may be dominated by fear. There is no cure.


The etiology of PTSD involves shock or violence of one kind or another. PTSD may occur suddenly as a result of a single trauma or it may extend over a lifetime beginning in early childhood. Approximately one out of three individuals (animal or human) may develop this disorder.

It is only recently that non human animals have been diagnosed with PTSD. Generations of wild animals like elephants, and whales who have been tortured and hunted down without mercy are starting to ‘crack’ – some erupting into acts of rage that are unprecedented…

Why? They have been unhinged by human violence.

Violence begets violence.

Neuroscience/Neuropsychology is providing us with explanations for this apparently bizarre behavior thanks to scientific researchers like Gay Bradshaw and Naturalists like Charlie Russell and myself.

I think one of the most important consequences of this cutting edge research/understanding is that it takes PTSD out of the category of “mental disorders” (removing a stigma) and places it where it belongs – in the cells of our bodies. PTSD is a physiological disorder. Having suffered from PTSD for a lifetime it was a relief to have validation for my gut sense that this thing was ‘living in my body’, and that there was nothing I could do to stop “it” once the disorder was activated by yet another social stress.

Intuitively I knew…

As a researcher I recognized PTSD in animals that I studied years ago but could never find evidence to support my observations until now.

For anyone interested in understanding more about PTSD in wild animals (and more insight into our own behavior) I highly recommend Gay Bradshaw’s books “Conversations with Bears” or “Carnivore Minds.”


Sara is a naturalist, ethologist ( a person who studies animals in their natural habitats) (former) Jungian Pattern Analyst, and a writer. She publishes her work regularly in a number of different venues and is presently living in Maine.

Categories: animals, Climate Change, Earth-based spirituality, Eco-systems, Ecofeminism, General, Nature, Non-Theism

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9 replies

  1. Excellent…..and so sad! I’m not surprised that animals also are afflicted by PTSD caused by humans and catastrophes caused by stupid, ignorant people. I’ve been saying for a long time that hunters should be hunted, trapped, shot, skinned, and eaten by lions, tigers, elephants, bison, wolves, deer, bears, and every other hunted animal.

    Thanks for this post and bright blessings to you and all the animals.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sara, thank you so much for your naming and understanding of PTSD in ourselves, animals, on our planet. I live on a road where John Burroughs used to teach in a school house that still stands. I tried to read his work, but had to stop when he wrote about shooting a loon and expressed surprised interest–but no remorse–at the mate’s grief and trauma. I remember seeing a family of pheasants gathering in distress around the body of one of their family who had been killed by a car. Thank you for your keen observation and compassionate work and for helping to wake our species out of our self-absorbed stupor.

    Liked by 1 person

    • And thank you Elizabeth for listening and using your sight and senses as well as your intellect to see the truth. Evidence of sentience and trauma is everywhere in nature – all you have to do is pay attention and believe what you see and feel… amazing how few people seem capable of this kind kind of compassionate witnessing. What is it? Giving up our privilege?

      Liked by 1 person

      • I ponder this question. People like John Burroughs and my late father-in-law were keen observers of nature in their way but my father-in-law (whom I didn’t know but who taught my brother) absolutely refused to see other life as capable of feeling and thought. My husband was infected with this view, but he has slowly–very slowly–come to see that it was a horrible form of alienation and dissociation. Recently he admitted–from his own experience–that our late cat Chloe was able to read his mind and communicate information to him. Thanks again for your post!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I am not surprised that animals also suffer from PTSD and trauma. Having suffered from it all my life, I don’t think I can bear to read about how animals are affected. It is too painful. I already know its affects.

    While I agree that PTSD can’t necessarily be healed, I think a lot can be done, with hard work, to lessen its effects. It certainly doesn’t over-turn my life the way it used to.That’s what humans can do for themselves. For animals, it’s up to us to not hurt them in the first place.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve had rescue dogs or met them in the homes of friends who were definitely traumatized and no doubt suffered PTSD. It’s good to hear it stated so clearly. After all we mammals have so much more in common than not. (All other creatures,too, but especially mammals) It all makes perfect sense they suffer as we do.. The only thing I wonder about is that stark “no cure”. I’m sure that it’s true overall, but certainly in my animals and my husband I can see how it’s been modified and ameliorated to some extent by constant loving attention and care, and, of course, in my dear human, because he can bring consciousness and understanding to the healing work.


  5. The “declaration of consciousness” extends to all…not just mammals, conservative Neuroscience tells us – octopus are brilliant problem solvers, for example.

    We can definitely learn coping strategies but there is no cure. Love makes a huge difference for all.


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