By Qin Sun Stubis
(originally published in The Santa Monica Star)
“When we watch our animals closely, we can learn a lot from them. They are very smart, you know.” Those were my mother’s words to me one day as she scooped some feed into our pigeon coop. I was only five and took her words literally. I started to patrol around our little yard, spying on those feathered and furred creatures we were raising, searching for their ingenuity.
That year in the fall, I noticed our Angola rabbit’s fur rapidly thickening. Is she making herself a winter coat? I wondered. But the cold weather hasn’t arrived. Does she know something I don’t?
Coincidentally, a few days later, my mother took out a big roll of white fluffy cotton to make me a padded winter jacket. I insisted that she add another layer to make it extra puffy, like the one my rabbit was making. It turned out to be a very cold winter and I was very pleased with my jacket. Every time I put it on, I thought about my rabbit. I was convinced that my pink-eyed lagomorph was full of wisdom.
My fluffy bunny may not have been a wizard or weather goddess, but she certainly knew how to anticipate and plan for the upcoming cold weather. In some ways, our animals may be smarter than we know. Though never proven scientifically, people from many parts of the world have a long history of connecting animals’ strange behaviors to imminent natural disasters such as earthquakes and storms.
Chinese people, for instance, believe that when animals, especially in large groups, behave out of character, they’re warning us against some approaching life-threatening event. So, if you see hundreds of toads escaping a pond or a group of elephants trumpeting and stamping in unison, you may want to take their actions as warning messages.
Recently, I read a report from the Washington Post about polar bears abandoning their homesteads and moving northward. Many of them are heading straight toward the icy Canadian archipelago where they can enjoy the sea ice year-round. Animals, in general, are very possessive and protective of their territory. For polar bears to give up their old homes in search of new ones, they must have come to a consensus that their shrinking ice isn’t going to grow back, and their survival as a species was endangered unless they made a move.
Nature is acting very erratically these days. The North Pole sees its icebergs melting while Florida is stunned by frozen palm trees and orange groves. Our polar bears have heard their frozen world cracking and crumbling as they retreat northward in this battle for survival. How about us humans? Have we seen or heard anything yet? Do we have any plans to protect our world?
A longtime columnist of ours, Qin lives in Bethesda, MD.