Can animals really "sense" imminent earthquakes?

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While humans obviously can't predict disasters coming - at least, not without complex sensors and computer models -, not long before deadly disasters, some animals start behaving as if they knew what was about to come. But could animals really have some mystical intuitions or refined senses that can alert them?

Scared cat

Although there's no evidence, many people believe that animals can sense imminent disasters somehow (Photo: pixabay.com / bella67)

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There are several reports about animals starting to behave "strangely" right before earthquakes, which includes dogs or cats showing unusual anxiety or excitement, and some are even said to wander away even if nothing like this had happened in the past. Of course, many of these cases are told by the owners of the animals, who, after the shock of a disaster, could pay more attention to the strange behavior of their pets, while before the disaster, they might dismissed these as unimportant. But strange cases are not so rare among animals living in the wild or in zoos either.

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In the May of 2008, China was shook by a strong earthquake. Not long before the disaster, the area was flooded with toads - the frogs were basically all over the streets in some towns. Normally, this could happen as a result of the yearly migration of the animals, but in this case, the timing was highly unusual. Toads usually stick to one well-defined time of the year to complete their migration, but in 2008, they started gathering at another part of the year too.

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What more, a few hours before the earthquake, animals in the nearby zoo started behaving particularly oddly: zebras hit the gates of their enclosures with their heads, elephants waved their trunks wildly, while all twenty big cats - tigers and lions - circled up and down instead of sleeping. Later on, the peacocks also "joined in", and started to "scream", and from then, exactly five minutes passed until the first tremor.

A similarly strange incident happened in Japan, where - a few days before a deadly earthquake - several dolphins stranded on the country's coast. This was enough evidence for many to believe in the ability of animals to predict disasters, so when almost 160 dolphins stranded near Japan in 2015, people feared an earthquake was about to come.

So, could animals really sense the proximity of disasters? First, it must be noted that there is no evidence of the alleged ability of animals to predict these devastating events - but this does not mean that the whole idea is completely impossible. Some animals might sense the electric signals caused by the movement of the underground rocks, while there might be some early and extremely soft tremors that are undetectable with our senses, but could be perceived by certain animals.

Anita Diós

August 2018