The Animals Know

    “The Animals Know,” Friend, Mar. 1981, 22


    The Animals Know

    We may soon depend on animals to save thousands of human lives every year. Scientists believe that earthquakes can sometimes be predicted by observing the behavior of animals. This is not a new idea. Even the ancient Romans thought frightened birds were a sure sign of approaching quakes. In all ages, some people have believed that certain animals had a special, mysterious sense—a sixth sense in addition to sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. This sense was supposed to have made it possible for these animals to detect emotions in human beings or to be warned ahead of time of natural disasters.

    In the case of earthquakes, these animal abilities have recently gained credibility because of certain eyewitness reports. Just before the city of Haich’eng, China, was struck by an earthquake in 1975, people noticed that cattle refused to enter their corrals, dogs barked without reason, chickens flew into the trees, and fish jumped out of ponds onto dry land. Because of these strange events and other signs, like changes in the water level of nearby reservoirs, the authorities guessed what was about to happen and evacuated the city in time to save the lives of many people.

    And several hours before northern Italy was struck by a quake in 1976, people also noticed the strange behavior of animals that seemed to lose their natural instincts. Wild deer flocked into the villages, cats fled into the hills, and mice wandered about in the open. Then the earthquake hit.

    Helmut Tributsch, a West German scientist, questions the sixth sense theory. Instead, he believes that static electricity is somehow produced just before earthquakes and that it is these electrical charges that affect the nervous systems of animals, making internal body glands work differently or faster. The glands then produce certain chemicals that cause strong emotions like fear. Other senses, like the sense of balance and the sense of direction, may also be affected by static electricity. This might explain why fish jumped out of the water and why rabbits crashed into trees before the 1975 earthquake in China.

    If this theory is proved, we will come one step closer to understanding the mysteries of earthquakes. We will probably never be able to prevent them, but if we can predict when and where earthquakes will strike, countless lives can be saved.

    Illustrated by Dick Brown