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February 22, 2019

Do animals sense danger better than humans?

The animal world is full of myths and mystical beliefs. Stories of heroic animals surviving some of the most catastrophic natural disasters have been told. Some of course have been highly exaggerated.

Some of the stories have been told in an effort to explain the names of the animals, like the king lion, or to explain the strength and massive body sizes of the African elephants or the whale. But some of the stories are simply amazing, if not bizarre.

Once upon a time, a merchant ship set sail for a trading mission. The destination was to take them over many seas and oceans. Since there were no engines to power the sea vessels, they used the power of the wind, and expert sailors to handle the sails.

They had many people on board who would row the ship should there be no wind during the voyage. It therefore meant that within the ship, there were more crew than the traders.

To reach the faraway lands where they would transact their business, they had to spend many days and nights in the water. There were times when they had to do with extremely bad weather and many people had been lost in typhoons and cyclones.

Therefore, for those who were well informed in matters of sea faring, the biggest task was to foretell a bad day before it came. Sometimes they saved lives by correctly predicting a coming disaster, but most times their prediction was wrong and costly to the traders and the crew as well.

One famous captain of an Arab merchant ship was using a very ingenious method to chat his trading route and put the timings. He would keep his method to himself because he was not sure he knew what he was doing. But since it was working, he kept it a secret but did it anyway.

He would prepare his ship and make sure he knew and met most of the animals living inside the ship. This included his very loyal dogs, the pigeons, and most important, the hundreds of rats that lived in the lower deck where they stored the oars.

When he was about to set sail, he would take a careful stock of the animals and mark where they were generally located in the ship. Satisfied the animals were there, he would announce the date when to set sail.

After several days in the sea, the captain would dock on an island and let his sailors rest for a day. He would not rest himself. He would secretly take stock of his animals again.

If for any reason he does not find them, or if the number had decreased tremendously over a short period of taking a break, he would know that the animals are afraid to continue with the voyage. Immediately he would cancel the journey temporarily until his animals reenter the ship.

He had this very strong feeling that animals were able to sense danger before it actually happened. He could not back his feelings with any scientific evidence.

But each time his animals disappeared from the ship, he would not move on. Those who did had their lives to pay for their mistake not to listen to the captain.

I would not have believed the story teller until December 2004, when the largest tsunami destroyed the beachfront city in the Far East. As friendly nations rushed to the towns to help, one keen observer noticed that he could not find skeletons or rotting bodies of animals washed ashore by the strong tsunami waves. For some inexplicable reason, animals were missing among the dead.

This was despite the fact that there was a wildlife reserve just meters from the shoreline. It looked like animals had predicted the coming of the tsunami and escaped to higher grounds. When all was calm, the animals trickled back to where they belonged. Not one was found dead.

Back home, when the ferry disaster happened in Mombasa, so many lives were lost. But ask those who took part in the rescue mission, not even the rats were anywhere to be seen.

Not in the sunken ship, not in the hull, not in the engine room which used to house the most numbers. They had escaped before the ferry set off. How? Let’s find out next week.

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