Wednesday, December 29, 2004

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Wildlife officials in Sri Lanka said yesterday that although thousands of people perished in the quake and tidal wave catastrophe, no dead animals had been found on the island nation.

A photographer who flew over Sri Lanka’s Yala National Park spotted “abundant wildlife,” but not one carcass.

Almost 23,000 people are thought to have died in the country, but H.D. Ratnayake, deputy director of the Department of Wildlife Conservation Sri Lanka, said it appeared that the animals had sensed danger and headed to safety.

“The strange thing is, we have not recorded any dead animals. No elephants are dead, not even a dead hare or rabbit. I think animals can sense disaster. They know when things are happening in nature,” he said.

Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne, who runs a hotel in the park, said, “I am finding bodies of humans, but I have yet to see a dead animal.”

Yala, Sri Lanka’s largest wildlife reserve, is home to 200 Asian elephants, crocodiles, wild boars, water buffaloes 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.

Rupert Sheldrake, biologist and author of “The Sense of Being Stared At,” a book about unexplained human and animal abilities, said animals “seem to sense when a disaster or catastrophe is about to occur.”

“The most striking examples concern earthquakes,” he said.

In some instances, cats have been said to go into hiding up to 12 hours before an earthquake, while dogs would bark “frantically” shortly before it struck, he said.

Roger Tabor, an animal behaviorist, said initial reports from Sri Lanka about the miraculous escape of the animal population were “intriguing,” but would need to be investigated further.

In these situations, he said, dead animals often are ignored or not even noticed because of the scale of the human tragedy.

A French official coordinating European aid to Sri Lanka told the French government by telephone yesterday that almost 23,000 were killed in that country in the weekend tsunami disaster.

Col. Philippe Nardin, of the national civil emergency service, told French Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin in a telephone briefing from Sri Lanka that “we can expect 40,000 to 50,000 dead” in the end, officials said.

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