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Asian Tsunami: Lessons from the Survivors
Why most wild animals survived and some street dogs perished?
While more than 2,00,000 people died in the devastating tsunami that struck several nations around the Bay of Bengal and the Indain Ocean on the 26th of December, 2004, hardly any wild animals were found dead. There ar emany reports of wild and domestic animals behaving abnormally just before the tsunami struck and saving themselves by running to higher ground. Do animals have any special sense that forewarned them of the disaster?


When the massive tsunami struck a dozen countries on December 26, the giant waves killed more than 200,000 people. On the other, relatively few animals have been reported dead. In Sri Lanka's largest wildlife reserve, the Yala National Park, abundant wildlife, including elephants, buffalo and deer, was witnesed after the tsunami and other than two water buffalos that had died, no other animal carcasses were found near the park. But 200 people including forty foreigners were killed in Yala. Along India's Cuddalore coast, where thousands of people perished, cattle, dogs and other domestic animals survived. In Thailand's Khao Lak National Park, more than 3,000 human beings lost their lives, but no death of a single animal was reported. However some countries hit by the Tsunami have reported deaths among domestic animals.

When the Tsunami struck, more than 200000 people died; but on the other, deaths among wild animals was 'almost nil' ...

Many reports of odd animal behavior observed just prior to the tsunami have also made news, indicating that animals may have sensed the wave coming and fled to higher ground:

  • Ten minutes before the tsunami crashed into the Point Calimere wildlife and bird sanctuary in the devastated district of Nagapattinam, a lookout in a lighthouse reported an extraordinary sight of a herd of around 500 black bucks and feral horses stampeding from the shoreline toward the safety of a nearby hilltop. Flamingos that breed this time of year at the sanctuary abandoned their low-lying breeding areas and flew to higher ground beforehand. The birds, though usually at their most voluble in the mornings, were eerily silent. Out of 2,000 animals at the wildlife sanctuary, only one wild boar had been found dead as a result of the tsunami.

  • In Thailand, tourists at Khao Lak resort in Thailand were woken up by wails and saw the strange sight of agitated panic stricken elephants, Poker and Thandung, trumpeting. The agitated elephants  broke free from their chains, ignored the commands of mahouts to stop and ran for higher ground, just five minutes before the resort was destroyed by the tsunami. The confused people followed and saved themselves. It was also observed that all the animals went high in the hills and have not returned. Not one perished in or around the park.

  • About an hour before the tsunami hit, people at Yala National Park observed three elephants running away from the Patanangala beach.

  • In the southern Sri Lankan town of Dickwella, bats were found frantically flying away just before the tsunami struck.

  • In Galle, Sri Lanka, two Doberman Pinscher dogs reportedly refused to go for their daily run on the beach about 90 minutes before the tsunami.

  • Also in Sri Lanka, it was reported that monkeys refused to accept bananas shortly before the tsunami arrived, being totally disinterested, staring up in a confused mode as if they were reacting to something.

  • A family dog saved a 7-year-old boy in India, nudging him up a hill and to safety as the waves came crashing into the boy's small concrete hut.

  • A village in Thailand was forewarned by its domesticated birds and the villagers fled before the wave hit; no one in that town died.

  • In Phuket, a survivor saw dogs running inland minutes before the tsunami struck

  • At Malaysia's Taiping Zoo, it was noticed that the animals suddenly began behaving in a peculiar manner, with some, including hippopotamuses, running to their shelters and refusing to come out.

  • A priest from a village in Pondicherry, India, observed that his usually quiet dogs howled continuously that fateful morning.

  • Along the coast, many recalled fish repeatedly jumping out of water before the tsunami.

However, some didn't notice any difference in the demeanor of their domestic dogs at all, even though the master felt the earthquake. In Phuket, some street dogs reportedly ran away and dog footprints were seen in second and third stories of buildings, suggesting that some did get a sense that they have to get up higher. However hundreds of street-savvy stray dogs were caught unaware by the killer waves and a lot of them got killed.

The belief that wild and domestic animals possess a sixth sense to know in advance about natural disatsters has been around for centuries. In 373 B.C., historians recorded that animals, including rats, snakes and weasels, deserted the Greek city of Helice in droves just days before a quake devastated the place. There have also been examples where authorities have forecast successfully a major earthquake, based in part on the observation of the strange antics of animals. In 1975 Chinese officials ordered the evacuation of Haicheng, a city with one million people, just days before a 7.3-magnitude quake. This was done after locals reported seeing snakes emerging from hibernation during the winter and freeze to death on the roads.

The animals are better equipped than humans to sense the changes in their surroundings

Many explanations have been offered for this abnormal animal behaviour prior to natural disasters:

  • Wildlife experts believe that the animals have better hearing and other senses that might enable them to hear or feel the subtle or abrupt changes in their environment long before humans could feel. Animals' heightened hearing is very different than in humans. A study conducted in 1984 at the Cornell Bioacoustical Lab revealed that elephants use infrasound (sound frequencies below human hearing range) in communication.

    • Earthquakes bring vibrational changes on land and in water, affect the flow of underground water, the earth's magnetic field, temperature and sound waves while storms cause electromagnetic changes in the atmosphere that the more sensitive animals feel before humans. Tsunamis may generate sound waves that travel faster through rock formations beneath the sea floor than on water surface and animals may have time to flee after detecting these waves. Research on both acoustic and seismic communication indicates that elephants can feel the vibrations generated from such a massive tsunami. Many animals can hear and feel seismic P waves, which humans cannot.

    • Animals can sense barometric changes in the atmosphere prior to a storm much sooner than humans, which is why dogs that are afraid of thunderstorms begin to get anxious prior to the full arrival of the thunder and sometimes flee to a safe hideout.

  • Animals, just like humans, have a "fight or flight" defense mechanism that is triggered when they sense that they are in a threatening situation. When domestic, livestock and aviary animals sense an earthquake, or hear alarm calls from other animals at far distances, and they are not cornered or trapped without ability to escape, they flee to higher ground and safe hiding places.

  • Birds are better equipped to deal with danger than their terrestrial counterparts. Since birds fly, it is very important for them to monitor weather changes very closely to avoid flying in potentially unsafe conditions. Although the mechanisms of exactly how birds monitor weather and navigate aren't understood very well, they seem to use all five senses. While birds cannot hear the whole range of frequencies humans can, their temporal resolution is 10 times greater than ours. Birds also use sound as a means to communicate when they cannot see each other, so they're constantly relying on sound as a means of communication. In addition, the ability to fly also makes escape much easier.

  • Even though the animals may not be communicating directly with each other, they may take cues from other animals' behavior. Some experts believe that the animals worked in concert as the impending tsunami was about to hit the South Aisian shore: The fish sensed the earthquake and warned the birds, the birds then warned the land animals. The animals may be forewarned by seeing birds fly away or by seeing other animals running.

  • Some scientists believe that strange animal behaviour or 'mass suicide' is indicative of approaching disaster. On November 29, before the tsunami, an inexplicable mass beaching of over a 150 whales and dolphins was witnessed in Tasmania, an island on the southern coast of Australia and in New Zealand. On December 4, Dr. Arunachalam Kumar from Kasturba Medical College, Mangalore, India posted a message on a natural history server that mass suicides of whales and dolphins that occur sporadically are in some way related to disturbances in the electromagnetic field and possible realignments of geotectonic plates thereof.

    On Dec.4, 2004, Dr. Kumar from Mangalore, India warned of an impending earthquake after noticing mass breaching of whales and dolphins!

    He remarked that tracking the dates and plotting the locales of tremors and earthquakes, it has been found that major earthquakes usually follow within a week or two of mass beaching of cetaceans. He also wrote that he will not be surprised if within a few days a massive quake hits some part of the globe. Dr. Kumar explained that whales and dolphins migrate thousands of miles along the geomagnetic wave, using it to align themselves. If they're beaching, it means their direction-finding capacity has gone wrong, perhaps due to seismic activity. His words proved prophetic.

But all don't agree. Geologists dismiss these kinds of reports, saying it's "the psychological focusing effect," where people remember strange behaviors only after an earthquake or other catastrophe has taken place and would not have remembered anything if nothing had happened. The United States Geological Survey says a reproducible connection between a specific behavior and the occurrence of a quake has never been made.

Any deviation from normal behaviour in both wild and domestic animals, like vacating areas of their dwelling, gathering in strange groupings, and entering into human habitats that they normally avoid, unusual cries or noises should alert us. Alan Rabinowitz, director for science and exploration at the Bronx Zoo-based Wildlife Conservation Society in New York, says that at one time humans also had this sixth sense, but lost the ability when it was no longer needed or used. (See Did Animals Sense Tsunami Was Coming?) While more research is certianly needed to confirm this, researchers in Japan, one of the world's most earthquake-prone countries hope that animals may be used as a prediction tool for natural disasters. While governments are rushing to install hi-tech early warning devices, these natural warning-systems that are already in place may be useful if studied properly. Wild animals survive by being always alert and we should take clues from them!

Compiled for Back2Cradle By: B.S. Kakkilaya


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  3. Animals Survive the Tsunami
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  5. Animals Used Keen Senses To Survive Tsunami
  6. Did Animals Sense Tsunami Was Coming?
  7. Did animals' 'sixth sense' save them from tsunami?
  8. Did the animals know of the tsunami before the waves hit?
  9. Mass Reports of Wild Animals Sensing Tsunami
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  11. Tsunami Kills Few Animals in Sri Lanka

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Updated: May 10, 2008