September 25, 2012

Incredible Animal Journeys.


When your mind and heart are truly open abundance will flow to you effortlessly and easily.

Written by Rupert Sheldrake, author of Science Set Free

There are many stories of domesticated animals coming home after they have been left or lost far away. Some have achieved almost legendary status, like a collie called Bobby, lost in Indiana, who turned up at his home in Oregon the following year, having covered a distance of more than 2,000 miles. Such cases form the basis of Burnford’s well-known animal adventure story The Incredible Journey, made into a film by Walt Disney, in which a Siamese cat, an old bull terrier and a young Labrador find their way back home over 250 miles of wild country in northern Ontario.

For every that is reported in the newspapers, dozens must remain unpublicized. On my database I have 95 unpublished stories of homing dogs and 61 of homing cats. Some concern animals that were abandoned or lost when they were away from home, but most were taken to live in a new home and later found their way back to their old one.

Nearly all these animals were transported to the new place rather than walking there by themselves. They would therefore have been unable to note the smells, landmarks or other details of the route. Usually their outward journeys were by car, but in some cases were by bus or train, and in one by boat along Lake Zurich. Sometimes animals were taken by indirect routes, but most of those who were spotted on the journey back were heading straight home, not following the route by which they had been taken. In any case, a dog or cat that tried to follow the roads or railway lines along which it had been carried on the outward journey would soon be squashed. Somehow the animals knew in what direction their home lay, even when they were in a place they had never been to before and had been taken there by an indirect route.

The clearest evidence that the animals' sense of direction does not depend on memorizing smells along the route, or other details of the outward journey, comes from cases where the animal was transported by air. During the Vietnam War, scout dogs used by U.S. troops and taken by helicopter to the war zones. One such dog, Troubles, was airlifted with his handler, William Richardson, into the jungle to support a patrol ten miles away. Richardson was wounded by enemy fire, and was airlifted to hospital; the other members of the patrol simply abandoned the dog. Three weeks later, Troubles was found back at his home at the First Air Cavalry Division Headquarters in An Khe. Tired and emaciated, he would not let anyone near him. He searched the tents until he found Richardson’s belongings, then curled up and went to sleep.

Another dog that could not have homed by following familiar smells along the route is Todd, a Labrador who fell overboard from his owner’s yacht a mile off the coast of the Isle of Wight, in England. He was given up for dead by his owner after a four-hour search. But Todd was swimming across the Solent, the strait separating the Isle of Wight from the mainland. He swam at least ten miles, first across the choppy sea and then and then up the tidal river Beaulieu, landing near his home. He had not attempted to reach the nearest land, on the Isle of Wight a mile from where he fell into the sea, but instead headed homewards.

Some horses also find their way home across miles of unfamiliar country, and their homing abilities would probably be expressed much more frequently if they were not shut up in fields and enclosures when taken to new places. The unwanted homing of horses is a nuisance, but sometimes a horse's ability to find its way back can be very useful.

One leisurely day, Jean Welsh was riding her horse in the Yorkshire countryside when she decided to explore an area that neither she nor the horse had ever been to before. After a while she realized she was lost. "I have a dreadful sense of direction and was a bit panicky. I dropped the reins on the mare's neck and said 'It's up to you now – get us home!' " The horse carried on purposefully, stopping at a gate they had never seen before. So confident did she seem that Jean opened it. "Without any direction from me she continued on her way and appeared very much in control." They followed unfamiliar tracks until they eventually came to a place Jean recognized, much to her relief, not far from home.

The ability to home is widespread. As well as stories about dogs, cats and horses, on the database there is a tale of a flock of sheep that escaped from a farmer's field and travelled eight miles to their native pasture, a pet pig that homed from seven miles away, and several stories of homing birds. One of the most vivid is about Donald and Dora, Easter ducklings raised by the Erickson family in Minnesota. Leni Erikson told me this story:

We built a fine pen in the back yard of our home in the inner part of Minneapolis. We fed them and gave them baths in a big plastic pool. They became quite the focus of our summer. Months passed and they were full size. What would we do when winter came? Finally in mid August we decided to take them over to a pond in a large undeveloped park about two miles away. Mom said it was best if they joined their own kind and learned how to be wild before the snows came. We reluctantly agreed, and let them go. Dad had marked their wings with paint so we could watch them mix around with the wild ducks. We returned home sadly. Suddenly we heard neighbours out in the streets yelling and laughing. We ran out into the front yard and much to our amazement there on the top of the hill, in the center of the street waddled Donald and Dora, quack, quack, quacking. They had found their way back home through woods and busy city streets.

Even more spectacular was the return of a pigeon belonging to Ken Clark, of Bakersfield, California that he gave to some cousins visiting from Connecticut . He provided some feed and a cage for them to carry it in, and off they went. "One month later the bird was back! Its tail feathers were mostly gone. It was dirty and a real mess." His cousins had taken the bird all the way home, 3,000 miles away, but it escaped when they were trying to transfer it to a bigger cage.

The homing abilities of pigeons are no surprise, but they are by no means unique, and are shared by many other species.

The bear problem

In North America, bears often cause problems in inhabited areas, raiding garbage containers, breaking into garages and posing actual or perceived threats to human safety. Every year in British Columbia alone, about 1,000 black bears and 50 grizzlies are shot, and in many other parts of the USA and Canada, “a problem bear is a dead bear”. In National Parks and other places where killing the bears is unpopular, wildlife managers routinely capture the bears and move them to sparsely inhabited areas far away. The problem is that many of them return, even when they are taken 150 miles by helicopter.

In a study by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, brown bears were captured in the remote Copper River Delta and fitted with radio collars so that their movement would be monitored. They were kept in metal cages and flown to the Ice Bay area, about 100 miles away and released as family groups, compatible pairs, or alone. Of thirteen radio-collared bears, ten started moving back in a homewards direction. Four of them either shed their radio collars or had defective collars and were lost, but the other six were traced back to their original home range in the Copper River Delta. The fastest moved at an average speed of six miles a day over the wild terrain.

The bears that did not move far from the release site were all young males, at an age when they were still establishing their home ranges. However, they were all shot by hunters.
The conclusion from this study was that moving problem bears has a high risk of failure. They “have a strong homing instinct and are capable of travelling relatively long distances in short periods of time.”


The same is true of problem crocodiles. In Australia, the long established practice of capturing and removing the most aggressive crocodiles from outback swimming holes and flying them hundreds of miles away by helicopter turns out to be useless. The crocodiles find their way back, swimming between 6 and 19 miles a day. In a recent study, biologists from the University of Queensland tracked crocodiles by satellite so their movements could be observed in detail. Large male animals were transported one by one to remote locations in a net underneath the helicopter and released in the ocean near the coast. The crocodiles stayed near the point of release for at least two weeks, but then they set off “on an apparently purposeful and direct travel homewards.” For example, one twelve-foot male swam round the northern tip of Australia taking the most direct coastal route and travelling more than 250 miles altogether, moving up to 20 miles a day. Once back in his home river, he stayed there.

The homing behaviour of bears and crocodiles taken by helicopter to remote, unfamiliar places makes it very clear that these animals have a sense of direction that cannot be explained in terms of tracing their route home by smells, or by visual landmarks, or by any other obvious sensory means.


Write Your Comment

  1. Barty Ddu

    Interesting to know about the crocodiles! I have also heard of even stranger cases where pet owners have moved house and decided to leave their pets behind, with friends or neighbours, and have then had the pets turn up some months later at the new house without ever having been there before! Do you know of any of those cases?

  2. Priya

    Touching. Animals love us unconditionally. But it is sad to knw tht human do treat thm in such derogatory manners.

  3. cupidme29

    amazing! I have African Grey parrot..amazing intelligence...thanks for lovely article

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