Some of you might be familiar with Paul, the famous octopus who predicted the results of the 2010 World Cup football matches with such accuracy that it made him popular as something of an “animal oracle”. While it is all in good fun and we are sure not many were bought over by the notion that Paul did indeed have any kind of supernatural powers at the predicting the outcome of those matches, it does seem that animals might perhaps have a different kind of supernatural ability to predict the future.
On the 4th of February in 1975 a massive earthquake hit Haicheng in the Liaoning Province in China. Casualties could have been enormous but because the earthquake had been predicted, people had left the epicenter and surrounding area. This was all part of a forced evacuation. Scientists and geologists had been monitoring the area and had seen changes in groundwater and soil elevations, were aware of a few fore-shocks the day before, were fairly sure an earthquake was imminent, hence the evacuation.
There was one more sign though that was a very natural sign. And this is a sign that we have become much more aware of in recent times. If you remember the huge Tsunami in Sri Lanka in 2004, scientists and geologists had no no clue on what was coming.
But the animals did.
In Haicheng there were reports of rats and snakes that literally became frozen in the road. It must be that the snakes and rats could feel vibrations. Farm animals became increasingly agitated. Geese took to the air and chickens couldn’t settle down. Something was going on with the animals and it was clear that they were aware of an imminent disaster.
Like with the 2004 Tsunami, there were reports of animals taking to the hills. The death counts amongst humans was devastating but not amongst animals.
it is therefore clear that animals can predict natural disasters. And they do not predict the disaster minutes before it takes place. They predict the disaster days and sometimes weeks in advance.
Rats, weasels and snakes apparently change their behavior days before an earthquake, leaving their homes and heading for safer grounds. Those that don’t leave, for whatever reason, freeze as the disaster gets closer.
Fish behave differently and swim in different patterns or away from their local feeding habitat. Birds are much noisier than usual, calling out to one another, sometimes shrieking. Farm animals head for the hills. Those that cannot get out of their enclosures behave erratically.
And domesticated dogs get very agitated. They bark more, can be more aggressive but also more caring. They may tug at or pull at their owners to get away. Of course the owner doesn’t know what the dog is indicating so they don’t listen.
But, people are starting to listen to animals and dogs and to monitor their behaviour. Residents of Haicheng who returned to the area to rebuild and pick up the pieces spoke about the animal behaviour. For them, had they taken note of the animals behaving differently, everyone would have survived because everyone would have left earlier. The forced evacuation was just hours before the earthquake struck meaning not everyone could get away.
And if we listen to people from Sri Lanka after 2004, there should have been a forced evacuation too. Although geologists had no signs of a huge underwater quake, animals knew that something was up. Had the local people stopped and listened to their animals, the death toll could have been much much lower.
So, how do these animals know?
Researchers say that animals are highly sensitive to chemical changes in groundwater. As the rocks start to slip, new chemicals come into the water. Animals can sense this and don’t like it. It makes them uneasy. The quake only happens when the rocks split completely, by which time it is too late for humans. Scientists have studied toads who abandon ponds in times of disaster. There is definitely something in the water that the toads pick up.
Researchers also say that snakes and ground animals can pick up on vibrations that they feel as the rocks start slipping. Humans cannot feel the vibrations until it is too late but animals feel them well in advance.
There is something to be said for living side by side with animals. Instead of seeing them as a source of food or wealth, we need to see them too as a source of information. We need to be more in tune with animals and their senses and if they behave in an agitated way, we should listen.
Of course, animals may have a sixth sense too. It is not a paranormal thing, but in the same way that humans have intuition, so too do animals. We need to get more in touch with their senses and prevent more deaths from natural disasters.