Trees and telephone poles were crushed like sticks within the grasp of what New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg called a storm of unprecedented proportions. Water rushed like a river down paths created by city streets. Land that was once occupied by some of the most visited vacation-spots in the nation was replaced by murky waterways of sewage.

Though it was no longer a hurricane, post-tropical superstorm Sandy punished the northeastern United States, leveling the Jersey Shore and killing more than a hundred people across 10 states. It whipped torrents of water over the streets of Atlantic City, pummeling the city’s fabled boardwalk, and set records in Lower Manhattan, where flooded substations caused a widespread power outage.

Despite all of the damage, however, very little wildlife was observed that perished within the destruction.

“Animals tend to flee,” said Dr. Alonso Aguirre, Executive Director of the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation, via an email interview. “They escape into the forest, deeper water or higher skies when they sense a natural disaster is coming.”

Little experimental data is available to determine if animals have a sixth sense to predict and prevent being injured during an unusual weather event. Many people, however, have anecdotes about animals being able to sense impeding changes in weather.

Researchers have tagged sharks before hurricanes that were observed fleeing to deeper waters before the storm arrived. Hannia Smith, Aguirre’s wife, observed grey squirrels prior to a storm that were piling up small branches to build a shelter just before heavy rain was expected.

Some animals, like elephants and birds, may be sensitive to the low frequency sound that waves emit during hurricanes or tsunamis. Before the 2004 tsunami in Thailand, elephants fled to the top of mountains and saved a number of lives. Birds may detect the slight changes in barometric and water pressure that signal a storm approaching.

Seismologists in Guanxi Province, China believe that snakes may be the most sensitive to subtle vibrations that precede an earthquake, predicting the disaster about 120 hours prior to the major event. Before an earthquake, snakes have been seen acting erratic, repeatedly throwing themselves against the walls of their enclosures.

Like elephants, birds and snakes, most animals are widely believed to have a sixth sense that protects them from natural disasters.

“The reason the animals are fleeing the storm, the sound, air or water pressure may not be proven,” Aguirre said. “Animals may just be reacting to the sound of an approaching storm or earthquake. However, it is a fact that some animals can sense an approaching natural disaster.”

During the catastrophic Thailand tsunami, a disaster that killed more than 230,000 people, only one animal, a cow, was found dead – not including the fish that had washed out of the ocean. Although natural disasters oftentimes claim masses of human lives, it is extremely rare that wildlife deaths are observed.

Perhaps due to their highly-evolved senses, animals have developed an ability to cope with a harsh environment. A peregrine falcon can dive in a flight of more than 160 miles per hour, eagles and other birds of prey can see four or five times better than humans and dogs can smell up to 10,000 times better than humans. Animals, in most cases, are better prepared for the unknown in a world full of harsh climates.

“I think any animal is better equipped than humans to avoid a natural disaster,” Aguirre said. “Humans are at a big disadvantage to avoid disasters. [We have] so much to learn from the animal kingdom.”

While the survival rate in wildlife is astounding, the story is much different for our companion pets. During Hurricane Katrina in 2005, more than 600,000 companion animals were killed, displaced or trapped in homes and left to drown or starve. In times of disaster, those who skip town using various forms of public transportation oftentimes leave their pets behind.

Though it may be impossible, and potentially unnecessary, to devote resources to saving wild animals from such storms, Aguirre urges pet owners to save pets and captive animals in cases of natural disasters.

“Free ranging wildlife, most of the time, take care of themselves,” Aguirre said. “The best medicine is not control, but prevention. We are contributing to a changing climate to a deteriorating environment. Better habits by every human may improve the health of all sharing this planet.”