August 20, 2012

Animal Premonitions Of Disaster.


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Written by Rupert Sheldrake.

Find out more about Rupert's new book Science Set Free!

Ever since classical times, people have reported unusual animal behaviour before earthquakes, and I have myself collected a large body of evidence for unusual animal behaviour before recent earthquakes, summarized in my book Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Copming Home, including the 1987 and 1994 earthquakes in California; 1995 in Kobe, Japan; 1997 near Assisi, Italy; 1999 in Izmit, Turkey; and 2001 near Seattle, Washington. In all these cases there were many reports of wild and domesticated animals behaving in fearful, anxious, or unusual ways several hours or even days before the earthquakes. Dogs were howling for hours beforehand, and many cats and birds were behaving unusually.

One of the very few systematic observations of animal behaviour before, during and after an earthquake concerns toads in Italy. A British biologist, Rachel Grant, was carrying out a study of mating behaviour in toads for her Ph.D. project at San Ruffino Lake in central Italy in the spring of 2009. To her surprise, soon after the beginning of the mating season in late March, the number of male toads in the breeding group suddenly fell. From more than 90 toads being active on March 30, there were almost none on March 31 and in early April. As Grant and her colleague Tim Halliday observed, “This is highly unusual behaviour for toads; once toads have appeared to breed, they usually remain active in large numbers at the breeding site until spawning has finished.” On April 6, Italy was shaken by a 6.4-magnitude earthquake, followed by a series of aftershocks. The toads did not resume their normal breeding behaviour for another 10 days, two days after the last aftershock. Grant and Halliday looked in detail at the weather records for this period but found nothing unusual. They were forced to the conclusion that the toads were somehow detecting the impending earthquake some six days in advance.

No one knows how some animals sense when earthquakes are imminent. Perhaps they pick up subtle sounds or vibrations in the earth. But if animals can predict earthquake-related disasters by sensing slight tremors, why can’t seismologists do so? Or maybe they respond to subterranean gases released prior to earthquakes, or react to changes in the earth’s electrical field. But they may also sense in advance what is about to happen in a way that lies beyond current scientific understanding, through some kind of presentiment.

Similarly, many animals seemed to anticipate the great Asian tsunami on December 26, 2004, although their reactions were much closer to the actual event. Elephants in Sri Lanka and Sumatra moved to high ground before the giant waves struck; they did they same in Thailand, trumpeting before they did so. According to villagers in Bang Koey, Thailand, a herd of buffalo were grazing by the beach when they “suddenly lifted their heads and looked out to sea, ears standing upright.” They turned and stampeded up the hill, followed by bewildered villagers, whose lives were thereby saved. At Ao Sane beach, near Phuket, dogs ran up to the hill tops, and at Galle in Sri Lanka, dog owners were puzzled by the fact that their animals refused to go for their usual morning walk on the beach. In Cuddalore District in South India, buffaloes, goats and dogs escaped by moving to higher ground, and so did a nesting colony of flamingos. In the Andaman Islands, “stone age” tribal groups moved away from the coast before the disaster, alerted by the behaviour of animals.

How did they know? The usual speculation is that the animals picked up tremors caused by the under-sea earthquake. But this explanation is unconvincing. There would have been tremors all over South East Asia, not just in the afflicted coastal areas.

Some animals anticipate other kinds of natural disaster like avalanches, and some also anticipate man-made catastrophes such as air raids. During the Second World War, many families in Britain and Germany relied on their pets’ behaviour to warn them of impending air raids before official warnings were given. The animal reactions occurred when enemy planes were still hundreds of miles away, long before the animals could have heard them coming. Some dogs in London even anticipated the explosion of German V-2 rockets. These missiles were supersonic and hence they could not have been heard in advance.

With very few exceptions, the ability of animals to anticipate disasters has been ignored by Western scientists; the subject is taboo. By contrast, since the 1970s, in earthquake-prone areas of China, the authorities have encouraged people to report unusual animal behaviour, and Chinese scientists have an impressive track record in predicting earthquakes. In several cases they issued warnings that enabled cities to be evacuated hours before devastating earthquakes struck, saving tens of thousands of lives.

By paying attention to unusual animal behaviour, as the Chinese do, earthquake and tsunami warning systems might be feasible in parts of the world that are at risk from these disasters. Millions of people could be asked to take part in this project through the media. They could be told what kinds of behaviour their pets and other animals might show if a disaster were imminent – in general, signs of anxiety or fear. If people noticed these signs, or any other unusual behaviour, they would immediately a telephone hotline with a memorable number for example, in California, 1-800-PET QUAKE. Or they could send a message on the Internet.

A computer system would analyze the places of origin of the incoming messages. If there were an unusually large number, it would signal an alarm, and display on a map the places from which the calls were coming. There would probably be a background of false alarms from people whose pets were sick, for example, and there might also be scattered hoax calls. But if there was a sudden surge of calls from a particular region, this could indicate that an earthquake or tsunami was imminent.

Exploring the potential for animal-based warning systems would cost relatively little. From a practical point of view, it does not matter how animals know; they can give useful warnings whatever the explanation. If it turns out that they are indeed reacting to subtle physical changes, then seismologists should be able to use instruments to make better predictions themselves. If it turns out that presentiment plays a part, we will learn something important about the nature of time and causation. By ignoring animal premonitions, or by explaining them away, we will learn nothing.

Rupert Sheldrake, Ph.D. is a biologist and author of more than 80 scientific papers and 10 books, including Science Set Free (September 2012). He was a Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge University, a Research Fellow of the Royal Society, Principal Plant Physiologist at ICRISAT (the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics) in Hyderabad, India, and from 2005-2010 the Director of the Perrott-Warrick Project, funded from Trinity College, Cambridge University. His web site is


Write Your Comment

  1. Rosie.ft

    Very interesting piece. The reason I googled the subject was due to the following: In December 2004 I went with my Sri Lankan husband and our two young children to visit relatives in Sri Lanka. On December 15th for the first time in my life I dreamed about a tsunami. It was a vivid and frightening dream, in which I was trying to run away from the wave with my children one in each arm, but I knew we were not going to make it alive, and I would lose them! The next few days I felt very disturbed by the dream and told my husband about it. In the end I got annoyed with myself, and asked myself; when would you ever see a tsunami in your life? I tried to forget it and enjoy my holiday. The rest we all know: 26th December the tsunami struck Sri Lanka. We were close to the sea but were not harmed, although the place where I had the dream was badly hit and many people died there. Although I thankfully did not lose my children there were many women who lost little ones the same age as mine. I could not bear hearing these stories, it was so upsetting. I still do not know how or why I dreamed this, Two other friends in Colombo had similar dreams some weeks before the event. As I said, I cannot explain all this, but I believe God is there and maybe warns us at times. Aside from this I am now much more accepting of my intuitive thoughts, and pay them a lot more heed than I used to.

  2. CuresRiches

    One month before the Indonesia tsunami that killed 250,000 I was told by evidently "other" spirit that I was being blamed for 250,000 thousand deaths by earthquake. Didn`t think too much of it at the time assuming that it was a reference to past earthquakes.

  3. massageamom

    I think by the time we started running around on paved roads and shoes to protect our feet, we had long lost an essential part of our nature…that being, in-tune with nature. And apparently forgot that we could keep our shoes, because Fido knows things…he’ll save us! Good Boy! Living in coastal Florida I will be paying closer attention to my assortment of fur balls running around here. The up side is that we get to rediscover this part of ourselves by working on becoming more and more in-tuned to ourselves and the nature around us. After 3 days of outer bands of rain & wind, thanks to Hurricane Isaac I was in-tune to, and loving all that nature happening around me, and thankful it was just the outer bands. I didn`t notice any odd behavior from my animals, maybe that was the sign that everything would be ok and it was.

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