People who are close to the land, working and living, can also feel impending danger, but we no longer require having to rely on our senses to survive all the time. It makes perfect sense,” Dr. Rabinowitz says. “People have the same abilities, they are just clouded by societal distraction.
In an amazing feat against nature, Sri Lanka’s abundant and varied wildlife may have just defeated human strategy in survival of the fittest, opening many doors to scientific discovery across the globe.
Officials have stated that many of the native species living near the coastal region of the Indian Ocean perhaps sensed the imminent waves of destruction of December 26th, 2004 tsunami disaster, therefore allowing them time to move to higher landforms for refuge.
Ravi Corea, President of the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society, witnessed the tragedy firsthand.
“I went all the way down to the Patanangala Beach inside the Yala National Park where nearly 60 visitors to the park got washed away. There had been reports that elephants had been moving away from the coast just before the Tsunami hit, and we saw no carcasses of dead animals, nor did the park personnel know of any wild animals that have died as result of it except for two feral water buffalo,” Corea remembers.
Yala National Park, Sri Lanka, is home to 200 Asian elephants, crocodile, wild boar, water buffalo and gray langur monkeys. The park also has Asia’s highest concentration of leopards. The Yala reserve covers 391 square miles, but only 56 square miles are open to tourists.
According to the Kataragama Devotees Trust, “In the southeast, the park is bounded by the sea. The many bays carve out an intricate mosaic. Unspoiled natural beaches and sand dunes provide a beautiful environment of undulating and shifting sands. This is surely one of the most spectacular seascapes of Sri Lanka. Far out at sea are two lighthouses, Great and Little Basses, which stand on two submerged ridges by those names and beam a red and white light respectively at night.”
Corea continues to paint a vivid picture of Yala National Park, a vision that both haunts and astonishes much of the global population, but confirms what scientists say they have known all along.
“During our trip along the main road of the park to Patanangala Beach we saw large herds of axis deer, one male elephant, many peacocks, several wild boar, black-naped hare, two species of mongoose, and a pack of five jackals,” he adds.
In an area where such tremendous waves revealed a black pile of ilmenite sand surpassing water towers reaching seventy-five feet high, Sri Lanka’s wildlife did not relent. Even after such extensive damage, the area’s wildlife perhaps knew instinctively to reach safer terrain.
Statistics show that by February 1st, 2005, nearly 890,000 individuals (almost 30,000 in Sri Lanka alone) from the Indian Ocean area had been displaced by the storm, while some 100,000 homes were damaged or destroyed and over 215,000 human lives perished in 11 Asian, Indian and African nations.
HD Ratnayake, Deputy Director for the National Wildlife Department, said in a statement to the media, “The strange thing is that we haven’t recorded any dead animals. 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.”
But is this really all that strange?
According to a Discovery Channel feature titled, A Spy in the Herd, elephants have highly sensitive feet. Vibrations from the ground send information to the brain. Elephants have fairly poor eyesight, so they rely on these sensations to protect themselves from nearby danger.
Dr. Mary C. Pearl, President of the Wildlife Trust says, “In the case of the earthquake and tsunami, I think that most wildlife are better at sensing minor trembles than humans (an Indian colleague from the Wildlife Trust Alliance, Dr. R. Sukumar, said he was awakened by vibrations in Chennai (Madras) India at 6:30 a.m. on December 26th, so even though the quake originated across the Indian Ocean, it was still perceptible to some people).
“Elephants also hear at frequencies much lower than humans can, and even communicate with one another through low rumbles that travel along the ground, which they pick up through their feet,” Dr. Pearl says. “They would be sensitive to both vibrations and low rumbles from great distances. As far as moving inland and upland as a response, this would be advantageous survival behavior that would become part of local animal behavior, since animals that do not have the tendency to move away from sounds and vibrations would have been fairly, consistently removed from populations over the course of evolutionary time. Some wildlife may have moved inland upon seeing elephants move, much the way that many species respond to an alarm call from a bird of another species.”
“So do a large variety of other animals,” adds Mammologist Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, Director of Science and Exploration for the Wildlife Conservation Society and expert on wildlife in Southeast Asia.
Dr. Rabinowitz believes animals may be “better at sensing” than humans. “This is something scientists have known for years and years. We are by no means baffled by this situation because it is logical. People believe that animals have this sixth sense about them, but the reality is, so do people! That is important to understand. Overall, human intuition is just as great even though animals can compensate by hearing higher pitched sounds and such,” says Dr. Rabinowitz.
Having collaborated on specials for Fox News on the Southeast Asian population and after living among indigenous people of Burma and Thailand for extended periods of time, Dr. Rabinowitz confirms that, “People who are close to the land, working and living, can also feel imminent danger, but we no longer require having to rely on our senses to survive all the time. It makes perfect sense.”
Dr. Rabinowitz added, “People have the same abilities, they are just clouded by societal distraction.”
Perhaps this very experience, “provides for a great opportunity to assess and initiate a study to observe how these areas are affected and how they will regenerate naturally over time,” Corea says. “Such study might have great implications for understanding how global warming and the resulting rise in sea level will affect inland coastal areas and their biodiversity.”
Though immediately safe, wildlife in Sri Lanka may be affected in the future. “The ecological problems throughout the area will be extended over a sustained period of time,” Corea adds. “The problems will be in the long-term as these are perennial lakes [like those in Yala National Park] that provide water to wild animals during the dry season, and now have got salt water in them.”
Dr. Rabinowitz concludes, “The salinization of the water sources for these animals is a serious problem. Depending on the extent of the salt contamination and how these lakes are replenished – either through rain or spring feeds, it will take a long time for the salt to eventually work its way out of these perennial lakes.
For people as well, the long-term devastation may surpass the immediate. We have yet to determine if the death rate of both people and animals will be far greater in the months and years to come following this earthquake and storm.”
A relief plan has been compiled by the Department of Wildlife Conservation in Sri Lanka that along with providing relief to locals will make for an assessment of the damage caused to the environment in the affected areas of Yala, especially to the soil, vegetation, freshwater lakes, other water sources, aquatic life, and land animals.
If interested in contributing to this fund visit the SLWCS at: www.SLWCS.org/tsunami
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