According to recent estimates, the earthquake that hit China on Monday could leave 10,000 people dead. Web users are saying that the catastrophe could have been avoided, if only they had listened to the toads.

Two days before the quake thousands of toads suddenly decided to move across a bridge in Taizhou, a town in the Jiangsu province (see photos). Chinese web users are wondering why the local authorities didn't relate the event to the imminence of an earthquake, and why scientists didn't take notice of the bizarre disappearance of a lake in Enshi, in the Hubei province, on April 26 (see photos).

A seismologist tells us that the Chinese have long relied on the behaviour of animals to predict earthquakes. Although there's no scientific study to back up the farmers' claims, the idea that toads sensed the earthquake should not be ruled out.

"Animals sense pre-earthquake micro-tremors"

Pascal Bernard is a researcher in a team of seismologists at the Jussieu University in Paris.

Although it's difficult to prove that toads "predicted" the quake, it's certainly not impossible. We know that animals sense pre-earthquake micro-tremors, and react to underground water movements, or even changes in the composition of the air. It's just that these theories haven't been scientifically proven yet.

China has a long tradition of seismology studies based particularly on looking at the behaviour of rats, snakes, toads etc. The idea was very fashionable in the 70s [when scientific researchers were ousted in the cultural revolution]. Farmers very carefully noted down all the different kinds of behaviour of animals in the hope of predicting natural catastrophes. But in my experience it never really worked. In 1975, villagers did manage to predict an earthquake and avoid catastrophe. But it was because they felt the mini-tremors, not because of something they noticed in the animals."

Swamped by toads in Taizhou (Jiangsu province)

10 May 08. Via Chinese website QQ.

A pond disappears in Enshi (Hubei province)

April 26. Via QQ.

Resulting in a good catch for a fisherman.