February 14: So you live in a quake-prone region and want to be prepared the next time an earthquake strikes. Unfortunately, science has still not come up with a way to predict earthquakes. But there’s hope yet. Just visit your local zoo and observe the behaviour of the animals there.

Astonishing but true. Animals remain even today, the best bet of alerting humans to an impending natural disaster.

Animal Sense [Illustration by Shinod AP]
Animal Sense [Illustration by Shinod AP]

Curious to know why? Animals, birds and snakes possess a sixth sense, claim animal behaviour experts. The indefinable ability to sense the presence of a natural disaster lurking in the background. Innumerable disaster films have used the theme of the family pet sensing the approach of something terrible, like a typhoon or volcano, and trying to alert the humans to it.

So what are the signs to look out for in animals? Well, there are many signs. The behaviour of the snake is among the best indicators, points out animal behaviour expert, Iqbal Malik.

Snakes, because they burrow deep into the ground, literally have their ears to the ground. They pick even the slightest change in vibration or temperature inside the earth. The rumble in the earth’s bowels signalling an impending earthquake can be ‘heard’ or sensed by snakes long before it actually strikes. They come out of their holes immediately. Those in captivity coil tighter.

It’s not snakes alone. Other animals who dig burrows, like rats, weasels and centipedes, move out of their burrows days before a quake strikes.

A report in ‘The Hindu’ newspaper lists other warning signals made by animals before an earthquake strikes the land. Horses bolting from stables is one; fish leaping from ponds is another; hens refusing to lay eggs, monkeys re-grouping to migrate from the quake zone, and birds circling a particular area frantically are all similar behaviour changes.

A large number of pet dogs and cats too, inexplicably go missing, before a natural disaster? No one knows why.

This happens to animals because they are much more in tune with their environment and as a result, are more sensitive to any change, say experts. Changes in their behaviour might result from hearing the high-frequency noise emitted by fracturing rocks below the earth’s surface. Or else because the effects on their brains have been caused by vibrations in the magnetic fields.

Not everyone is convinced about the ‘sixth-sense’ theory explaining the changes in animal behaviour. Seismologists or scientists who study earthquakes, are on top of the list of the doubting thomases. They say it is simply a question of animals, especially burrowing animals, reacting to change in energy levels leading to changes on the earth surface or inside it.

Whatever the reason, animal behaviour remains a good indicator of predicting an earthquake. So the next time your dog starts to act strangely, pay heed.

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Filed under: world news
Tags: #birds, #earthquake, #disaster, #snakes, #signs

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