Could Lemurs Have Prevented Italian Geologists From Being Charged With Murder?

In April 2009, an earthquake rocked the ancient Italian city of L’Aquila. I remember this day, because one of my co-workers comes from this region and still has family there. I told him of the news, and he checked in with the relatives – fortunately they were all fine, but many others were injured and 309 people died.

Normally following such an event, there are reports of efforts to rebuild and provide alternative shelter for those who lost their homes. In this situation, the news instead reported that a group of geologists were going to be facing trial for murder. Why? They failed to predict the deadly earthquake, which was their job as members of the National Commission for Forecasting and Predicting Great Risks. (See this Scientific American article for more on that story.)

Dan Lewis, director of New Media Communications for Sesame Street Workshop, reports that the 5.8 magnitude earthquake on the east coast on 8.23.11 demonstrated some intriguing animal behaviors:

But the lemurs?  They started sounding the warning alarm — fifteen minutes before the earthquake began. There was apparently no other cause for alarm, limiting the possibility of this being a coincidence. Further, after the earthquake ended, the lemurs repeated the same alarm call, as if to suggest that the coast was clear. A formal study of the animals’ reaction (and not one limited to just the lemurs) is underway, but early results have lead some to joke that if you live in an area prone to earthquakes, you may want to make your next pet a lemur.