In Martinique, in 1902, several days before the eruption of Mount Pelée, all animals, from birds to reptiles, fled the surroundings of the volcano. The people stayed. There was only one survivor out of the 40,000 inhabitants: a prisoner protected by the thick walls of his jail.
In Fréjus, France, in 1959, all the cats deserted their homes before the dam built upstream burst and flooded the lower part of town, killing over 400 people. And in 1999, in the Vosges, before the violent hurricane Lothar hit, with violent winds that felled numerous trees, all the deer had left the thick of the forests to regroup in the open clearings.
On December 26, 2004 the Yala National Park in Sri Lanka was devastated by a tsunami that penetrated up to three kilometres inland and covered an area of 300 hectares. Surging waves destroyed buildings and transformed vehicles into deadly missiles. Although more than 200 elephants and numerous other animals lived in the park, not a single one succumbed to the tidal wave. “No elephant died, not the least hare or rabbit. I think animals can sense disasters coming. They have a sixth sense. They know that something is about to happen”, declared one of the park officials. From a helicopter a journalist sighted the herd of elephants on dry land. The authorities in Sri Lanka confirmed the fact that no dead wild animal was found among the tens of thousands of human remains recovered.
At all times and everywhere in the world such events are related and never fail to fill man with wonder, prompting him to ponder the mysterious faculty that animals possess to have a premonition of such dangers.
The scientific approach
To scientists there is nothing mysterious or inexplicable about animals knowing in advance that a natural disaster is going to take place. Contrary to humans who live in a secure environment, animals live in an environment fraught with a thousand hidden dangers. They are constantly on the alert for predators, to defend their territory and their young, to escape the inclement weather, to find food and so on.
In order to survive the multiple dangers confronting them, animals have developed heightened faculties of perception. In some the sense of hearing is especially refined. The sounds that they are able to pick up are greatly increased towards the high or low end of the frequency spectrum, thus allowing them to hear their enemy “from afar.”
Bats and insects, for example, discern ultra-sounds that are inaudible to humans. Rocks subjected to strong pressures, as it is the case with an impending earthquake, emit sounds of high frequency. That is certainly why shortly before the earthquake that triggered the tsunami of December 2004 thousands of bats were witnessed in Sri Lanka flying away from their deep cave habitats in broad daylight, whereas these animals normally come out only at night.
Elephants, on the other hand, detect infra-sounds. Those of the Yala Park mentioned earlier as having escaped the tsunami probably discerned low frequency sounds emitted by the shifting continental plates, thus allowing them to get to the shelter.
Other animals, snakes for example, are very sensitive to variations in the earth’s magnetic fields, which alter strongly in the hours preceding earthquakes. It would explain why snakes leave their holes before the first tremors to avoid, as has often been observed, being crushed. Chickens, geese and pigeons are also observed to become extremely agitated before earthquakes.
According to some researchers, such panic is due to the ability of these birds to perceive emission of radioactive gases, like radon, which occurs when deep subterranean rock layers, with trapped gases, crack and shift shortly before the earth quakes.
The acute perception of the animals is certainly a part of the explanation of why they foresee danger, but it does not explain all. Two reasons prompt us to think that there must be something else than the sixth sense we speak so much about. Firstly animals react before the event takes place, and secondly they react intelligently in relation to the danger. Let us examine these two elements.