Three crocodiles saved a dog seeking refuge in a river – in a possible display of “emotional empathy”.
A report published in the Journal of Threatened Taxa outlines how a young dog was observed being chased by a pack of feral dogs and entered the shallow waters of the Savitri River, in India’s Maharashtra.
The dog had not spotted the three mugger crocodiles floating nearby, which began edging closer to what appeared to be certain prey.
The adult reptiles – described by the Wildlife Institute of India as “opportunistic predators” – instead pushed the dog to safety using their snouts.
They even guided him to an area of the riverbank that wasn’t occupied by the feral pack, allowing the dog to make a safe escape on land.
Image: The dog floating in the Savitri River in India. Pic: Utkarsha Chavan, Journal of Threatened Taxa
It was an action the journal said may have been down to “sentient behaviour suggestive of cross-species empathy”.
The “curious” incident was uncharacteristic of the crocodiles.
The species can grow to over 16ft and 450kg, and are known to pose a major threat to humans who encroach into their natural habitats in India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Nepal.
The journal explained that its analysis of the encounter was speculative, and acknowledged that the crocodiles’ kindness may simply have been due their lack of an appetite.
Its conclusion, however, focused on the more heart-warming hypothesis.
“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,” it read.
“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.
“The curious case of a dog ‘rescued’ by the group of crocodiles reported here seems more on lines of empathy than altruistic behaviour.
“However, there is little research done on such mental faculties of reptiles.”