When a Crocodile in India Saves a Dog, is it a Sign of Empathy?

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Indian researchers have observed the strange behavior of the swamp crocodile or  Crocodylus palustris that inhabits the Savitri River in the state of Maharashtra. Through  the Journal of Threatened Taxa, published on August 26 2023, researchers found that crocodiles may have more advanced cognitive abilities than previously thought.

They seemed to exhibit strange behavior, such as being attracted to bouquets of marigold flowers floating in the river. Not only that, a number of swamp crocodiles were seen “saving” a young dog that was supposed to be prey, from being chased by a pack of other wild dogs.

Allegedly crocodiles have empathy Initially, the researchers wrote, the young dog accidentally sought protection from a group of other dogs by entering the shallow waters of the Savitri River. At the same time, three adult crocodiles were clearly visible floating near the water and watching the dog. Instead of eating it, the three swamp crocodiles pushed it back to the river bank. ” These crocodiles actually touched the dog with their snouts and encouraged him to move further and climb safely along the river bank before finally running away,” the researchers wrote in the journal. A

The researchers interpreted the crocodile’s behavior as an act of empathy, indicating the reptile may be concerned about the safety of the young dog. Although the fact that crocodiles do not attack their prey is interesting, there is little evidence that these animals have empathy for other species. Reporting from Live Science , Wednesday (21/9/2023), a reptile neurophysiologist at the University of California, United States, Duncan Leitch said that the researchers’ findings in the study may have come from an anthropomorphic perspective. Anthropomorphy is the human tendency to assign characteristics, motives or behavior to other species, especially animals. “They may be coming from an anthropomorphic perspective and trying to ascribe abilities that crocodiles might not have,” Leitch said.

Meanwhile, researchers said the interest of swamp crocodiles in marigold flower bouquets dropped into the river was triggered by their color and antibacterial properties. However,  the crocodile was not seen interacting or eating the flower, but only swimming around it. Regarding this, Leitch said that crocodiles are endowed with a very sophisticated sensory system and an excellent sense of sight. “They are completely ready to pick up signals from their environment. Whether this is intelligence is hard to say,” he said.

According to Leitch, the findings that suggest crocodiles may have cognitive abilities including empathy could offer prospects for further research. However, because there has been no further research regarding this matter, the findings are only anecdotal. On the other hand, Leitch emphasized that such anecdotal evidence is not widely accepted among crocodile researchers.

Source : Kompas