When a young dog in India took refuge in a river while being chased by a pack of feral animals, he was immediately surrounded by three crocodiles. Experts say they were so close they could have easily eaten him, but when their noses touched, they helped save his life instead.
The situation is described in a new report published in Journal of Threatened Species By scientists who spent years studying swamp crocodiles, known as marauders, in Maharashtra, India. Adult male thieves can reach 18 feet long and weigh up to 1,000 pounds, according to Wildlife Institute of IndiaBut according to researchers, this massive size doesn’t always mean they’re aggressive.
They described a case in which a small dog was chased “by a pack of feral dogs” and ended up trying to escape into the Savitri River. At that time, three adult thieves were clearly seen “floating nearby in the water and their attention was drawn” to the animal.
But instead of making the dog their next prey, two of the three crocodiles showed “more obedient behaviour” than expected. Instead of eating the little animal, the crocodiles “guided” it away from where a group of dogs were waiting for it on the river bank.
“These crocodiles would touch the dog with their snout and prompt him to move more in order to safely climb the bank and eventually escape,” the researchers wrote. “…Given that the robber was within strike range and could have easily eaten the dog, yet none of them attacked him and instead chose to push him towards the bank, it means that the hunger motive was absent.”
But why did the crocodiles not take advantage of this opportunity to eat the dog, as they did in other cases? Even scientists aren’t sure.
However, their best guess is that the thieves were simply displaying their emotional intelligence.
“Emotional empathy” — which allows one species to “experience the emotional feelings of another species” — has not been comprehensively researched in these animals, but it may be an answer, they said.
“The strange case of a dog rescued by a group of crocodiles reported here appears to be more about compassion than altruistic behavior,” the scientists said.
In their research, scientists made another “strange” discovery: thieves love marigolds.
The crocodiles were regularly seen perched, sunbathing and basking around the yellow and orange flowers, often maintaining “physical contact” with them. Marigold petals are known to contain antimicrobial compounds that can help protect the skin from fungi and bacteria, and given Savitri’s sewage pollution, it is believed the connection could help alleviate such issues, the researchers said.
“This behavior is new and interesting,” the researchers said, adding that this behavior requires further investigation.
While they can’t be sure why the thieves would choose to help a dog live rather than help themselves to a meal, one thing is clear: “Reptiles have been underestimated in terms of animal cognition,” the researchers said.
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