Even “thieves” have a kind heart! A recent study published in the Journal of Threatened Taxa investigated the behavior of swamp crocodiles, also known as “thieves,” in the state of Maharashtra, India. Researchers documented a case in which these giant reptiles assisted a dog in safely escaping from a swamp, supporting the hypothesis that they displayed “emotional empathy.”
After being chased by a pack of wild dogs, the dog sought refuge in the waters of the Savitri River in the Indian state of Maharashtra, unaware that three crocodiles were present in the river. However, to everyone’s surprise, the reptiles did not view the animal as prey but rather as a “friend” in dire need of help.
These reptiles, characterized by the Indian Wildlife Institute as “opportunistic predators,” had an unexpected reaction. Instead of attacking the dog, they nudged it towards an area on the riverbank where the pack of wild dogs couldn’t reach, allowing the four-legged animal to safely reach dry land.
Considering that the attackers were in close proximity and could easily have devoured the dog, yet none of them attempted to do so, opting instead to push it toward the bank, suggests that hunger was not a factor. We believe this is a case of cross-species emotional empathy, a behavior that is not extensively studied, even though the ability of one species to experience the emotional feelings of another species deserves recognition.
The curious case of the dog saved by the group of crocodiles appears to be more about empathy than altruistic behavior. However, there is limited research conducted on such mental faculties of reptiles,” stated the researchers of the mentioned study.
Crocodiles can reach impressive sizes, growing up to five meters in length and weighing around 450 kilograms. They pose a significant threat to humans entering their natural habitat in countries like India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Nepal. Therefore, the unusual behavior observed in this event, described by researchers as extremely “curious,” deviates from the typical response of these reptiles to any nearby threat. One hypothesis is that the surprising “kindness” of the predators could be attributed to their lack of appetite at that moment.