To escape a quake, listen to the feathered, four-legged

Vinson Kurian Thiruvananthapuram | Updated on March 12, 2018


The night-time jolt in New Delhi last week ( September 7) provided proof, if needed at all, of how the feathered, winged or haired inhabitants of the world see it coming right ahead.

One needs merely to observe them to be warned, and make good the escape to live another day and tell the tale, says Tinni Sawhney, a resident of a Delhi suburb.


Tinni should know, since, after completing her master's degree in rural management in 1988, she has worked extensively on livelihood and conservation issues in rural India.

Following the October 2005 earthquake in Jammu and Kashmir, she had conceptualised and implemented a reconstruction programme in affected villages, which included training local masons on earthquake resistant building techniques.

She has also documented and disseminated traditional earthquake resistant building practices of the Kashmir valley (such as Dhajji Dewari).

Thursday's earthquake was the closest to Delhi in terms of proximity to the epicentre, Tinni recalled.


“What made me sit up was the sight of crows in flight and calling out during the dead of the night.

“I opened the balcony door and the crows had started flying in the sky – Josie, my pet cat who loves to spend all the night sleeping, was looking up at me and meowing. She did seem agitated - the tremors started soon after.”

Everyone says it is impossible to predict earthquakes, but perhaps animals close to epicentres can give us prior warning through their unnatural behaviour.

“The time gap between when I paid attention to the crows and Josie and the actual tremors was enough for us to rush out from the apartment and into the park,” Tinni said.

According to Pune-based Amateur Seismic Centre (, the quake was centred 1.3 km southeast of Rajnagar, Delhi; 4 km east-southeast of Dwarka; 7.5 km west-northwest of Vasant Kunj: 13.7 km northeast of Gurgaon; 15 km west of Lajpatnagar; 22 km southwest of Shahdara; 23 km west of Noida and 30 km northwest of Faridabad.


Thankfully, the earthquake was a “mild” one with a magnitude of 4.3 on the Richter scale (those recording between M4.0 to M4.9 are categorised as “light”).

It was felt in the Delhi Metropolitan area as well as in adjoining parts of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh on the night of Thursday at 11.28 p.m., according to official information.

“We have experienced tremors before (about two months back as well), but I haven't heard crows calling out in this manner.

The response of animals to impending disasters is very well documented. In the case of earthquakes, I think it also has to do with closeness to the epicentre.”

Unlike migratory birds, crows don't call out while in flight. They do so usually when they rest on tree branches or wherever they land themselves over.


“I also remember in Kashmir and Gujarat, people telling me about birds leaving their nests and dogs howling before the tremors began,” Tinni said.

Both these earthquakes happened during the day - when we don't have too much time to observe.

She is of the firm view that nature gives out its own warning ahead of any major disaster – be it the deep-sea inhabitant “red fish” showing up along the Tamil Nadu coast ahead of the year 2004 tsunami.

Or dolphins, amongst the most perceptible animals, which rushed towards the New Zealand coast ahead of quakes earlier this year.

But we need to learn to observe them in order to lead ourselves and even whole communities out to safety.

Published on September 14, 2011

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