Pandas Sensed China Quake Coming?

Christine Dell'Amore
National Geographic News
May 15, 2008

In the minutes before a massive earthquake shook central China on Monday, captive pandas near the epicenter began acting strangely, according to an eyewitness account released today. (Watch video.)

The observation, made by a British tourist who had been watching the pandas at the famous Wolong National Nature Reserve near Chengdu, mirrors previous accounts of animals "sensing" disasters before they occur.

Diane Etkins told the Associated Press that the pandas "had been really lazy and just eaten a little bit of bamboo, and all of a sudden they were parading around their pen.

"Looking back they must have sensed something was wrong."

(Read: "Can Animals Sense Earthquakes?" [November 11, 2003].)

Etkins and 30 other Britons were evacuated to the provincial capital of Chengdu after the magnitude 7.9 earthquake devastated the remote mountainous region, toppling towns and killing more than 19,000 people.

Twelve Americans, part of a tour of China sponsored by the conservation group WWF, were also visiting the breeding center when the earthquake hit. All of the tourists survived the quake, WWF confirmed to National Geographic News on Wednesday.

"It certainly was a surreal experience going through a 7.9 … earthquake surrounded by 25 pandas all sort of reacting to that as well," one of the Americans, Robert Liptak, told the Associated Press.

The 86 captive adult pandas were unharmed by the disaster, and an unknown number of cubs were moved to a safer location in Shawan, a main town in Wolong.

Odd Behavior

Accounts abound of both domesticated and wild animals behaving oddly before major natural disasters.

In 2005, elephants screamed and ran for cover and zoo animals rushed into their shelters before a tsunami struck Sri Lanka and India.

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