Jan. 21, 2005


Talk to the Animals
by Rhiannon Ross

Not one elephant, leopard, monkey, wild boar, crocodile or buffalo was found dead in Sri Lanka’s Yala National Park following the massive tsunami that hit this country’s shores. The large beasts residing in this wildlife reserve climbed to higher ground before the apocalyptic floodwaters hit, as if obeying a silent command to enter an invisible ark.

Some wildlife officials credit the animals‚ survival on instinct or a type of “sixth-sense.” Elephants are said to have felt the earth vibrate beneath them as the tsunami approached land. They heeded what scientists refer to as “nature‚s warning system.”

Ten-year-old Tilly Smith of Great Britain also heeded nature’s warning system. On vacation with her mother at Maikhao beach in Phuket, Thailand, she recognized the danger signs of an impending tsunami. She recently studied “harbor waves” — the English translation for the Japanese word tsunami — in school. Because of Tilly’s awareness, one hundred tourists safely retreated to higher ground.

But tens of thousands of humans who didn’t heed nature’s warning system were tragically swallowed by the hungry waves of the Indian Ocean. They perished because they relied solely upon technology’s warning system.

Granted, blame can be placed, in part, on the inferior tsunami warning system in Southeast Asia — on technology that failed to correctly measure the undersea quake on the Richter scale the first time and hence, accurately predict the inevitability of a tsunami. Technology that, once the quake’s magnitude was correctly determined, relied upon a poor communication system to alert people to the wall of water boring their way. And there were small, remote islands obliterated by the tsunami that no warning system could have saved.

But ignorance and arrogance also must be considered as contributing factors in this disaster.
We are so busy sunning and shopping, safe in the microcosm of our Miatas and Mercedes to take note of the natural world around us, to heed our own animal instinct, our sixth sense or perhaps, our common sense.

We demean the “lower” animals among us, seeking dominion over them instead of connection. Personally, I have known when a serious storm was approaching by the behavior of my dogs.

We neglect the care of the planet that sustains us and such neglect is also capable of destroying us. We count on meteorologists to predict our sunny and overcast days. We neglect scientific knowledge to our peril. Some of us discount the threat of global warming to our environment, including our Yale-educated president. We are so far removed from our integral place in the universe and the animal kingdom we may no longer know how to listen.

We are now left with tragic “what-ifs.” What if there had been a more efficient tsunami warning system? What if more people possessed Tilly’s knowledge?

And what if someone had noticed the mass exodus of the animals in Yala National Park to higher ground?

Rhiannon Ross lives in Kansas. She can be contacted at or






























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