Tsunami Adds to Belief in Animals' 'Sixth Sense'

Reuters

Thu Dec 30, 2004 01:31 PM GMT

By Ed Stoddard

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Wild animals seem to have escaped the Indian Ocean tsunami, adding weight to notions they possess a "sixth sense" for disasters, experts said Thursday.

Sri Lankan wildlife officials have said the giant waves that killed over 24,000 people along the Indian Ocean island's coast seemingly missed wild beasts, with no dead animals found.

"No elephants are dead, not even a dead hare or rabbit. I think animals can sense disaster. They have a sixth sense. They know when things are happening," H.D. Ratnayake, deputy director of Sri Lanka's Wildlife Department, said Wednesday.

The waves washed floodwaters up to 2 miles inland at Yala National Park in the ravaged southeast, Sri Lanka's biggest wildlife reserve and home to hundreds of wild elephants and several leopards. "There has been a lot of anecdotal evidence about dogs barking or birds migrating before volcanic eruptions or earthquakes. But it has not been proven," said Matthew van Lierop, an animal behavior specialist at Johannesburg Zoo.

"There have been no specific studies because you can't really test it in a lab or field setting," he told Reuters.

Other authorities concurred with this assessment.

"Wildlife seem to be able to pick up certain phenomenon, especially birds ... there are many reports of birds detecting impending disasters," said Clive Walker, who has written several books on African wildlife.

Animals certainly rely on the known senses such as smell or hearing to avoid danger such as predators.

The notion of an animal "sixth sense" -- or some other mythical power -- is an enduring one which the evidence on Sri Lanka's battered coast is likely to add to.

The Romans saw owls as omens of impending disaster and many ancient cultures viewed elephants as sacred animals endowed with special powers or attributes.

The tsunami was triggered by an earthquake in the Indian Ocean Sunday. It killed tens of thousands of people in Asia and East Africa.