I just got a brilliant book from my favourite shop – The Last Bookshop on Park Street. It’s called ” Bats sing, Mice Giggle, The Surprising Science of Animals’ Inner Lives” by Karen Shanor and Jagmeet Kanwal. I will not go into asking why so many good US academics have unusual nanes, but this book begins with a news item from Reuters, Sri Lanka 29 December 2004:
“Wildlife officials are stunned – the worst tsunami in memory has killed around 22,000 pepole along the Indian Ocean island’s coast,but they can’t find any dead animals. Giant waves washed floodwaters upto 2 miles inland at Yala National Park in the ravaged southeast, Sri Lanka’s biggest wildlife reserve and home to hundreds of wild elephants and several leopards. ‘The strange thing is we haven’t recorded any dead animals,’ H.D. Ratnayake, deputy director of the Natonal Wildlife Department, told Reuters Weds ‘No elephants are dead, not even a dead hare or rabbit,’ he added. ‘I think animals can sense disaster’
This is one of those news items that should still be reverberating on the newswires, so significant is this observation. Whilst Shanor & Kanwal make some good points about how we have lost touch not just with animals, but with the animal side of ourselves, this is only part of the story.
In all the stories of the tsunami then and those since, I cannot recall any stories of dead animals, no urgent operations to bury them, nothing.
This is not just about what the animals know, but how can we use this information as the current tsunami warning systems are dubiously reliable, and can only really be tested when it’s too late, ie when it is upon us.
The animal system clearly works well. We cannot go back to the garden when we may or may not have had these – what seem to be supernatural abilities – to sense natural disaster. But given the huge loss of humal life, we should be looking at ways of looking at animals.
If all the wildlife headed to safety, why didn’t someone notice?
Didn’t the park rangers or tourists on safari or local farmers hear the thunder of panicing elephants heading for the hills? If not, then how can we find ways of spotting this behaviour, since it seems to affect every living creature apart from the insensitive human race.
What is the point in trying to set up electronic monitoring systems for the approach of disaster when we already have living breathing, sentient monitoring systems? We just need to figure out how to make use of them
Why cant’ we monitor the animals and notice when they head for high ground? It should be easy enough, since so many of them are already tagged. We have satelites up in the air: why can’t they be used to look out for groups of animals heading to high ground and notify locals to do the same?
We don’t need to talk to the animals. We just need to watch and listen. They are clearly better at surviving natural disasters than we are. We should be learning from them, and using their knowledge. This does not require any exploitation of animals, in fact the less contact we have with them, probably the better their alert systems will work. We don’t need to understand it in order to save lives.