40 Animals that Changed History

Chairman Mao in 1963. Wikimedia Commons

39. Chairman Mao ordered all sparrows to be killed in 1958. A great famine followed their destruction

In 1958, Chairman Mao waged war on an unlikely enemy. Noticing that tiny sparrows frequently stole a little bit of grain, he saw an opportunity to increase grain production. ‘Birds are public animals of capitalism’ roared Mao’s government, launching a campaign to exterminate them. Professional hunters and ordinary folk alike chased sparrows, leading many birds to die of exhaustion. People destroyed their nests and smashed their eggs. Unfortunately, Mao didn’t realise sparrows also ate insects that did far more damage to agriculture. The resultant ecological imbalance exacerbated the Great Chinese Famine, which killed between 15 and 45 million people.