Three crocodiles intervened to save the life of a dog that went into a river in India, showing a possible instance of ‘emotional empathy’.

When you think of emotional empathy and life-saving efforts, crocodiles might not be the first animal that springs to mind.

With their ruthless teeth, death rolling capabilities, and fearsome reputation, the crocodiles – or any creature from that general family – are hardly Lassie, are they?

However, these three crocodiles might just have saved the life of a dog who ended up in the river after being chased there by a pack of feral dogs.

A report in the Journal of Threatened Taxa outlines this bizarre story, and asks whether it could be that the crocodiles genuinely decided to step in to help the stricken dog out.

The dog was chased by the others into the river, entering the shallows of the Savitri River in India’s Maharashtra.

It might have thought that the river represented safety, but the dog clearly hadn’t noticed the three mugger crocodiles that were lurking nearby.

The crocs started to slowly move closer towards the dog, seemingly eyeing up for an attack, but instead they arrived and shoved the dog up out and to safety using their snouts.

The adult crocs – which are described as ‘opportunistic predators’ by the Wildlife Institute of India – even took the dog away from the feral pack to an area of riverbank that it could get out and escape safely from.

It’s very unusual, but the journal suggested that the reptiles might have been demonstrating ‘sentient behaviour suggestive of cross-species empathy’.

The whole thing was described as ‘curious’ and out-of-character for the crocodiles.

Mugger crocs can grow up to 16 feet long and weigh in at over 450 kilograms, and have even been identified as a threat to humans who come near their habitat in India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka.

In the journal, it is acknowledged that the perceived kindness of the crocs could simply have been down to them not being hungry, but the conclusion sticks with the more positive and cheering theory.

It isn't clear why the crocodiles helped, but it seems like they did. Credit: Journal of Threatened Taxa

The journal states: “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.

“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.”

Obviously, not everyone agrees.

LiveScience quotes Duncan Leitch, a biologist specializing in the neurophysiology of reptiles at the University of California, Los Angeles, as having said: “Crocodilians do have a sophisticated suite of behaviors.

“But some of these conclusions are using a human definition of intelligence and trying to find that in crocodilians.”

One thing is for sure, it certainly throws the lyrics to ‘never smile at a crocodile’ into a stark new light, that’s for sure.

@cbsnews Crocodiles surrounded a stray dog in India after being chased by a pack of feral animals. Instead of killing the dog, the crocodile saved it's life. #crocodile #india #news #dog ♬ original sound – cbsnews

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