Progressive & Thought Provoking Discussions about Wild & Domestic Animal Behavior, Animal Careers, Animal Training, & More!

Animal Instincts:
Disaster Prediction at Ark Animals

Permission to use quotes and excerpts of this article is granted to journalists of major media outlets. Otherwise all content © by Diana L. Guerrero and may not be reprinted elsewhere without prior written permission. All rights reserved. Contact for reprint permissions and fees.

Seismic Sentries
Disaster Prediction at Ark Animals

San Bernardino, California. On March 28, 2005 the US Geological Survey reported a magnitude of 8.7 quake with an epicenter off the coast of Sumatra. The event is thought to be an aftershock of the December 26, 2004 quake that killed more than 125,000 people in 11 countries.

This earthquake was roughly half the strength of the December quake, which measured 9.0 on the logarithmic magnitude scale. Although scientists cannot predict exactly when seismic events will occur, the quake was anticipated. The journal, Nature reported that the stress was increasing in the Sumatran subduction zone and the adjacent Sunda Trench--and warned that this stress could be released in another seismic event.

Recent news of this event raised additional discussions over animal instincts. Animal survival stories first hit the news after Sri Lanka wildlife officials reported that they did not find many animal carcasses after the December 2004 tsunami. Speculations arose about a "sixth sense." But can animals really predict disaster? And if so, why were there so many animal causalities in other areas?

According to author and animal disaster behavior expert Diana L. Guerrero, "Anecdotal accounts seem to indicate animals exhibit an awareness of impending disaster. Behavioral changes are common in both wild and domestic animals prior to seismic activity but they are difficult to quantify scientifically. Every animal responds differently and there are many theories on the topic."

Guerrero is the author of the handbook, Animal Disaster Preparedness for Pet Owners & Pet Professionals and is one of the contributing editors to Resources for Crisis Management in Zoos and Other Animal Care Facilities. In addition to her written works, she holds numerous certifications in the animal disaster field from groups such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).

The author has also worked with many of the nation's animal disaster rescue groups and recently accepted the assignment to be a contributing editor on another work focusing on disaster management for the zoological industry and animal care facilities. The project will be published by the American Association of Zoo Keepers.

Guerrero said, "It is not uncommon for animals to exhibit behavioral changes before an impending disaster. The rule of thumb is to note any behavior that is abnormal for your animal."

She said that the problem of using animal behavior predictions alone is that most human observations of the behavior are subjective. Her theory is that city dwelling animals are desensitized to noise and earth movement when compared to rural animals. So, not all animals will respond will respond in the same way--if at all. The problem faced from the scientific realm is that these trends need to be accurately measured to be taken seriously.

"Sensory perception and reactions among animals vary. Personally I've seen changes in patterns of behavior in both wild and domestic animals prior to seismic activity, but actually proving that the changes were precursors is difficult." Guerrero shared.

Guerrero's professional interest in animal disaster behavior began in the early 1990's. She said, "I've been pushing the the animal disaster preparedness and behavior topic for years, but few professionals considered the issue to have any merit. Now there are whole rescue divisions dedicated to animal operations during disasters. The behavior topic is also finally gaining important ground in the academic world."

Even so, only a few institutions such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, and the California Institute of Technology are researching and publishing on the topic.

Guerrero said, "There are a few investigative projects being conducted by independent scientists. A few years ago, the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America published a paper that stated that earthquake precursors might be found outside the realm of seismology and in the studies of animal behavior, sensory physiology, and even genetics. That is a big advance over views held ten years ago."

Other countries consider animal predictions worthwhile. Just last year, the Washington Times reported that the Chinese will resume the monitoring of animal behavior changes in relation to seismic activity. The animal behaviorist has sourced papers on the topic from Japan but says there are more anecdotal references.

"Observations on animal predicative behavior prior to disasters go back to 373 BC and come from Italy, Greece, Chile and many other countries. More contemporary observations include a California geologist who began collecting reports of unusual animal behavior and increased numbers of lost pets in shelters." Guerrero said.

A book on the geologist's work, The Man Who Predicts Earthquakes is scheduled to be released in late 2005 or early 2006 (the centennial of the San Francisco earthquake) by Sentient Publications. Quotes from Guerrero are included in the book.

Guerrero said that he uses a variety of techniques and indicators to predict earthquakes and that one of the tools he uses to monitor risk is the increase in the numbers of lost animals.

"Changes usually used to calculate threat involve variations in magnetic, electrical, tilt or humidity standards. Animals hear infrasonic and ultrasonic sound frequencies and sense barometric changes that humans do not." Guerrero continued, "Their genetic hard-wiring is geared for survival. In addition, they probably feel seismic waves way before we do and alarm cries are effect cross species."

But could animal behavior be used to alert us to natural disasters? Guerrero said, "Yes, I believe they can be used as indicators, as they have been in the past. However the technique for identifying precursory behavior would have to be refined and standardized to be taken seriously."

Guerrero's animal disaster preparedness booklet offers her notes on pre and post animal behavior, and offers tips to mitigate the affects of a disaster. In addition, readers will find guidelines about how to prepare prior to a disaster, how to form or get involved in an animal disaster preparedness network, and what items to include in kits for dogs, cats, horses, and birds.

The work also includes tip sheets for behavior, identification, health, diet, and sanitation for multiple species during a disaster. First published in 1992, the newer edition includes bonus sections on post disaster animal behavior and resources for the pet owner including animal disaster agencies, where to get training, and suppliers of kits and equipment (focusing on the United States).

For more information readers can order the PDF version of Animal Disaster Preparedness for Pet Owners & Pet Professionals online.

Animal Disaster Links of Interest


Subscribe to Blog

Click Here for RSS Feed


Guerrero Ink: Freelance Animal Writer

Join Email List