How Deaf Animals Adapt

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Contrary to popular belief, being deaf does not always entail a dramatic drop in living standards. The pretty normal lives many deaf animals lead stand as living proof ofhow heightened survival instincts and well-channeled intrinsic attributes can offset hearing loss.

Hearing loss in animals is either genetic or triggered by untreated medical conditions, old age, unexpected traumas, noise pollution or a myriad of other undetermined reasons. In the face of such a scourge, many animals, either domestic or wild, evince feats of perseverance and endurance, managing to adjust to the surrounding environment as well as sane animals would. Bereft of the primary sense of hearing, these animals must, first and foremost, rely heavily on their other senses, namely the sight and smell. And they do it with flying colors.  Dogs are born sniffers; they possess a fine nose equipped with what it takes to assist them in the process of delineating their environment and hence leading a normal life. Cats on the other hand, are endowed with great sight - even at night - which facilitates their interaction with an unfamiliar environment and makes them surmount every obstacle that comes their way. Other pets including horses, hamsters and even snakes, when confronted with hearing loss, learn how to avail themselves of their other intrinsic attributes to survive. Deaf horses can live a fulfilling life as long as they rely on their visual skills to eat, interact with their fellow conspecifics or roam free in horse sanctuaries. Likewise, deaf hamsters and snakes resort to their keen sense of smell to sense any potential danger, resume old habits and adjust to new circumstances.

To some skeptics’ dismay, pets or domestic animals are not the only creatures to learn how to survive with deafness. Many wild animals do it as well. From the almost anonymous apple snail to the familiar dolphin, wild animals touched by hearing loss show significant habituation to the new environment as quick as a wink. How do they manage to do it? The answer is simple: they are dependent on their other highly developed primary senses to hunt, scavenge for food, find shelter, ward off potential enemies and fight for their life when threatened.  When white-fleeced llamas and alpacas go deaf, for example, they exercise their olfactory receptors to find the best food sources. Somewhere on the northern side of the equator, deaf minks astound naturalists and zoologists alike through their amazing ability to dig their own burrows and hunt for birds.

More about this author: Loredana Ghitescu

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