Where are all the dead animals? Sri Lanka asks
Mother Nature's Voice
By Jessica Hawley - Lifestyles
By now, the news of the tsunami that devastated a dozen countries from Asia to Africa is global and the stories of the animals that escaped the giant waves are legend.
The phenomenon has inspired worldwide speculation and awe, prompting scientists to take a deeper look into the idea that domestic and wild animals do, indeed, possess a proverbial sixth sense.
While most Americans were basking in holiday cheer, over 160,000 lives were lost in the floodwaters generated by the 9.0-magnitude earthquake that rumbled an estimated 600-mile-long stretch of earth under the Indian Ocean.
Three weeks later, the recovery effort is still in full force and less than half of the victims' bodies have been properly buried.
Amazingly, few animals have been reported dead while more and more recounts of unusual animal behavior have surfaced.
According to National Geographic News, before the waves hit the Sri Lanka and Indian coastlines, elephants screamed and fled for higher ground, dogs refused to go outdoors, flamingos abandoned their low-lying breeding areas and zoo animals stubbornly remained in their shelters.
Yala National Park is Sri Lanka's biggest wildlife reserve and home to over 200 Asian elephants, 130 species of birds, crocodile, wild boar, deer, jackals, water buffalo, monkeys and Asia's highest concentration of leopards. Yet, despite the abundant number of animals' assumed vulnerability to the tidal surge that rushed two miles into the 500-square-mile reserve, wildlife officials have reported no deaths.
"This is very interesting. I am finding bodies of humans, but I have yet to see a dead animal," said Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne to CBS News. Wijeyeratne's hotel in the park was destroyed.
Interesting, yes, but not unheard of.
"It is not uncommon for animals to exhibit behavioral changes before an impending disaster. Wild animals often vacate areas, gather in strange groupings and sometimes will even enter into human habitats they normally avoid," animal behavior expert Diana L. Guerrero said.
The British Press Association reported that an elephant led a group of children to safety after its trainer placed them on its back before the tidal wave crashed ashore. Other pachyderms broke their chains and ran away from the coastlines of Sumatra Island.
The World Wildlife Fund has attached-satellite collars to some of the elephants that were observed fleeing Patanangala beach in Yala National Park. The WWF announced that it will use the recorded data to track and analyze their movements.
The elephants' trumpeting and erratic behavior is reported to have started at around the time that the earthquake occurred. Could it have been a viable warning?
Some say maybe.
Dr. Bonnie Beaver, a professor at Texas A&M University's College of Veterinary Medicine and president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, has considered the possibility.
"Animals' sensory capabilities are very different from ours," Beaver said. "They pick up things that we don't."
She said that animals can feel the barometric pressure changing or they can smell the ozone before a natural disaster.
Beaver also said that animals can feel the pre-tremors of an earthquake or hear the very low sounds that travel through the ground, thereby sensing a gradually-evolving disturbance before humans do.
According to Pipe Creek Veterinarian Dr. Sheridan Sloan, studies have shown that animals can detect chemicals and gases emitted from the earth during storm activity.
Elephants have been known to lay their trunks on the ground when an airplane or large vehicle creates vibrations.
Researchers in Japan and China have been attempting to interpret animal behavior to predict seismic activity for over 30 years.
American seismologists are not as easily convinced, however. They argue that without a controlled study or reproducible connection between a specific behavior and a natural occurrence, all evidentiary indicators remain inconclusive.
"We are poor observers of behavior," Beaver said. She noted that most animals' actions are typically not heeded until after a disaster has occurred. Only in retrospect does their behavior make sense to us.
Regardless of the debate, in an age of global warming, unusual weather activity and indisputable environmental changes, the benefits of thoroughly exploring all avenues of conservation and observation have become evident.