Animal quest: How do they know before disaster strikes

— Shashwat DC

That day, Bozo was very unusually disturbed. The Pomerian dog used to be a fairly joyful and playful bugger, but I well remember he was very different back then. He would not play, nor eat, would make whining noises, and roam around the house as if possessed. His tail was between his legs, indicating fear, and he would constantly hide underneath the table. As evening melted into the night, his disturbance seemed to increase by the minute. By midnight he was a nervous freak. I remember, trying to pull him out from under the table where he was hiding, and he snapped at my hand with a ferocity I never knew before. The next morning, I woke up to news of how an Earthquake measuring 6.2 on the Richter scale had flattened much of Eastern Maharashtra, killing over 10,000 people. The earthquake had stuck at around 4 am, and the location of the epicentre was some 500 kms away from Mumbai, where we lived. Meanwhile, Bozo was back to his normal self, playing & jovial like nothing ever had happened before. But I had learned something that still stays with me since that penultimate September night in 1993.

Thus, when I read an article on BBC Website that spoke of how five golden-winged warblers “evacuated” their nesting site one day before the April 2014 tornado outbreak, I was not really surprised. Apparently, the geolocators showed the birds left the Appalachians and flew 700km (400 miles) south to the Gulf of Mexico, saving themselves from the disaster and returning to the nesting site, few days later.

But even before this incident there have been many examples of how animals could sense and take evasive action against natural disasters well before the time it stuck. Take the case of biggest ever Tsunami to have stuck the Indian coast in December 2004. It was on later analysis that researchers found that there was much less (percentage wise) casualty of animals vis-a-vis the humans. As a National Geographic article mentioned, in Sri Lanka, people noticed that before the Tsunami came, the elephants screamed and ran for higher ground, dogs refused to go outdoors, flamingos abandoned their low-lying breeding areas, zoo animals rushed into their shelters and could not be enticed to come back out. This was a case all across the region, from Yala National Park to Havelock Islands, everywhere the animals seemed to have sensed the disaster much in advance the humans could.

Researchers attribute these to ‘Sixth Sense’ instrinsic in the animals accentuating their survival abilities to predict a disaster and take evasive action. But it is not all about intangibles, there is science in play as well. Like for instance in the case of Warblers in the US, the scientists claim that the tip-off was the “deep rumble that tornadoes produce, well below what humans can hear”. Dubbed as “Infrasound”, this rumble that travels thousands of kilometres and acts as an advanced warning system. That’s about tornadoes. There are other set of scientists who claim that vibrations in the ground, before the earthquake warn the animals similarly. As in the case of the elephants, research indicates that elephants could picked up vibrations generated from the massive earthquake-tsunami. This is a constant pattern that we have seen all across the animal world.

So, do animals have Sixth Sense that warns them in advance? Of course, they do. Why does it happen or how does it? No one knows. Why did the dolphins and fishes swim into deeper sea, why do birds and land animals flee, no one knows for sure. But as the frequency of natural disasters increase with passing time, thanks to anthropogenic climate change, we need to look more at our animals in the surrounding, the wild ones outside and the pets inside, to discern the trends. Bozo that night when the earthquake stuck was fearing for the very worst. Thankfully it did not (for us). But then, even when Bozo isn’t around to warn me, I have become much more respectful for the sense of his likes. And yes I pay a lot of attention to their sudden whims. My humble advice is; so should YOU!


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: