A stray dog seemingly doomed either to be torn apart by a pack of feral dogs or devoured by crocodiles, instead was “nudged and escorted” to safety by the reptiles, according to scientists who observed the unexpected rescue.
The unusual behaviour of the marsh crocodiles toward the “aquatic refugee” was documented in a study recently published in the Journal of Threatened Taxa, which shows the Muggers are rather caring creatures, not just reptilian in nature.
“The curious case of a dog ‘rescued’ by the group of crocodiles reported here seems more on lines of empathy than altruistic behaviour,” researchers wrote. “However, there is little research done on such mental faculties of reptiles and this paper opens novel vistas of understanding behaviour of Muggers in general and that of Savitri River in particular.”
The incident is found in a report with a mouthful for a title.
“Observations on cooperative fishing, use of bait for hunting, propensity for marigold flowers and sentient behaviour in Mugger Crocodiles Crocodylus palustris (Lesson, 1831) of river Savitri at Mahad, Maharashtra, India.”
However, the findings provide a rare glimpse into an understudied area of research: animal sentience.
While the topic is an emerging area of scientific attention, reptiles have received perhaps the least of it.
But these scientists reported a young dog being chased by a pack of feral dogs, which prompted the frightened dog to “inadvertently” find refuge in the shallows of the river Savitri.
“At this time three adult Muggers were clearly seen floating close by in the water and their attention was drawn to this dog and they moved closer towards the dog,” the study noted.
“What initially seemed to be a classical predatory instinct of the Mugger towards the hapless prey, soon turned out to be a more docile behaviour by two of the three crocodiles that guided the dog away from the site where it would have been vulnerable to being attacked by the pack of feral dogs waiting on the river bank,” researcher added.
These crocodiles were actually touching the dog with their snouts, nudging it to move further for a safe climb up the bank and eventual escape.
But exactly why is pretty speculative.
“Given that the mugger was well within the striking range and could have easily devoured the dog, yet none of them attacked and instead chose to nudge it towards the bank, implies that the hunger drive was absent,” the authors conclude.
“We propose this to be a case of sentient behaviour of the Mugger resulting in cross species ‘emotional empathy’, which is not a very extensively investigated behaviour, though capacity of one species to experience the emotional feelings of another species merits recognition,” they added.