Did Animals Sense Tsunami Was Coming?
By Maryann Mott
for National Geographic News
January 4, 2005
Before giant waves slammed into Sri Lanka and India coastlines ten days ago,
wild and domestic animals seemed to know what was about to happen and
fled to safety.
According to eyewitness accounts, the following events happened:
• 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.
The belief that wild and domestic animals possess a sixth sense—and know
in advance when the earth is going to shake—has been around for centuries.
Wildlife experts believe animals' more acute hearing and other senses might
enable them to hear or feel the Earth's vibration, tipping them off to
approaching disaster long before humans realize what's going on.
The massive tsunami was triggered by a magnitude 9 temblor off the coast
of northern Sumatra island on December 26. The giant waves rolled through
the Indian Ocean, killing more than 150,000 people in a dozen countries.
Relatively few animals have been reported dead, however, reviving
speculation that animals somehow sense impending disaster.
Ravi Corea, president of the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society, which
is based in Nutley, New Jersey, was in Sri Lanka when the massive waves
Afterward, he traveled to the Patanangala beach inside Yala National Park,
where some 60 visitors were washed away.
The beach was one of the worst hit areas of the 500-square-mile (1,300-
square-kilometer) wildlife reserve, which is home to a variety of animals,
including elephants, leopards, and 130 species of birds.
Corea did not see any animal carcasses nor did the park personnel know
of any, other than two water buffalos that had died, he said.
Along India's Cuddalore coast, where thousands of people perished, the
Indo-Asian News service reported that buffaloes, goats, and dogs were
Flamingos that breed this time of year at the Point Calimere wildlife
sanctuary in India flew to higher ground beforehand, the news service
Strange Animal Behavior
Accounts of strange animal behavior have also started to surface.
About an hour before the tsunami hit, Corea said, people at Yala National
Park observed three elephants running away from the Patanangala beach.
World Wildlife Fund, an organization that leads international efforts to
protect endangered species and their habitats, has satellite collars on
some of the elephants in the park.
A spokeswoman said they plan to track the elephants on that fateful
day to verify whether they did move to higher ground. She doesn't know,
though, when the satellite data will be downloaded and analyzed.
Corea, a Sri Lankan who emigrated to the United States 20 years ago,
said two of his friends noticed unusual animal behavior before the tsunami.
One friend, in the southern Sri Lankan town of Dickwella, recalls bats
frantically flying away just before the tsunami struck. Another friend,
who lives on the coast near Galle, said his two dogs would not go for
their daily run on the beach.
"They are usually excited to go on this outing," Corea said. But on this
day they refused to go and most probably saved his life.
Alan Rabinowitz, director for science and exploration at the Bronx
Zoo-based Wildlife Conservation Society in New York, says animals can
sense impending danger by detecting subtle or abrupt shifts in the
"Earthquakes bring vibrational changes on land and in water while storms
cause electromagnetic changes in the atmosphere," he said. "Some
animals have acute sense of hearing and smell that allow them to
determine something coming towards them long before humans might
know that something is there."