Over 20,000 baby chicks have died after being abandoned in cardboard boxes at an airport in Madrid, authorities said Wednesday. Police said they were left for days without food or water and resorted to cannibalism to survive.
According to Spain’s national police, a total of 26,000 chicks were found in boxes and pallets in the cargo terminal of the Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas airport over the weekend. When they were discovered, 6,000 had already died after three days in the cold with no food, and the others were suffering from hypothermia and attempting to survive by eating the remains of the perished birds.
In a statement on Wednesday, police called the conditions the animals were living in “deplorable” and “overcrowded.” They said there was a strong odor from the chicks that had already died, contributing to the poor living conditions of the others.
A video posted by police shows officials sorting through the surviving chicks and preparing to transport them to safety.
In total, about 23,000 chicks died. Police said they were able to save just 3,000 of the animals after putting them in the care of two animal protection agencies, Salvando Peludos and Asociación para la Liberación y el Bienestar Animal (ALBA).
A handful of rescue organizations used social media to call on locals to donate heat lamps and food, but warned early on that the chicks went “through hell” and many were likely to not make it through the night.
One of the organizations helping care for some of the surviving chicks posted an update on Wednesday, showing the birds playing in the grass on a sunny day. They said the survivors are now at various animal sanctuaries and foster homes.
An investigation by police revealed that the boxes in which the chicks were being transported broke from water damage due to rain, so they could not be taken to their final destination. Police said the company responsible for the chicks contacted the company responsible for the shipment, who did not make efforts to save them.
“As soon as the airport was aware of the presence of the chicks boxes at the Cargo Terminal, it was notified to the competent authorities, collaborating with them at all times,” a spokesperson for the airport told CBS News on Friday.
Officials did not specify where the birds were being shipped. It is possible that the people in charge of the shipment may be charged with animal abuse. The investigation is ongoing.
“It is imperative that this not go unpunished,” ALBA said on Facebook.