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Do animals really have a Sixth Sense?

23rd October 2018
Picture of yellow helicopter
Horror in Indonesia
16th October 2018
Earth as seen from space
Suffering in silence
30th October 2018

Reports from the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami strongly suggest that animals can sense an approaching disaster long before humans

T his week, I’m going back to the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami and, more specifically, to the mystery about animal deaths.

The tsunami killed more than 150,000 people in a dozen countries but, despite the disaster’s catastrophic toll on human life, there were no reported deaths of wildlife and pets. Could it really be that animals across Sri Lanka survived unscathed and, if so, how?

The belief that wild and domestic animals possess a sixth sense—and know in advance when the earth is going to shake—has been around for centuries. Throughout history there have been tales about animals acting odd before natural disasters, but the phenomenon has been hard for scientists to substantiate.

Some believe animals' acute hearing and other senses might enable them to hear or feel the earth's vibration, tipping them off to approaching disaster long before humans know what's going on.

I t is known that humans can't hear infrasound but many animals including dogs, elephants, giraffes, hippos, tigers, even pigeons can.

“Known as Rayleigh waves, the vibrations travel at 10 times the speed of sound so the waves would have reached Sri Lanka hours before the water hit.

Sri Lanka’s national wildlife park at Yala, which saw the waves wash floodwater inland for 3km, reported that no animal corpses were found in the grounds. Did they sense Raleigh waves and flee to safety?

I came across an article published in January 2005 by National Geographic, which suggests they did. The article cites eyewitnesses who saw elephants running for higher ground, dogs refusing to go outdoors, flamingos abandoning their low-lying breeding areas, and zoo animals rushing back into their enclosures and refusing to emerge.

Speaking in December 2004, H.D. Ratnayake, Deputy Director of Sri Lanka's Wildlife Department, said: "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.”

Unfortunately, we will undoubtedly learn more about animals’ sixth sense (or lack of) as the death toll on human and animal life from September’s Indonesian tsunami is published.