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Zoo animals got quiet, exhibited nighttime behavior during total solar eclipse

Scientists and zookeepers on Monday observed giraffes, gorillas, lions, macaws and flamingos exhibiting unusual behavior during the total solar eclipse.

Because total eclipses occur so rarely, researchers don’t know much about their impact on animals. They studied the animals Monday at several zoos located along the path of the total eclipse, such as Fort Worth Zoo in Texas. Animals were generally calm at the Fort Worth Zoo, although some, including gorillas, lions and lemurs, showed increased signs of alertness and curiosity.

“Most importantly, we have not observed any signs of increased anxiety or nervous behavior,” a Fort Worth Zoo spokesperson said. “And once totality passed, things returned to normal, almost immediately!”

Several animals at the Fort Worth Zoo headed toward their barn doors, where they go at night, as the sky darkened during the eclipse, the zoo spokesperson said. Aldabra tortoises, giraffes, elephants, kudu, bonobos, coatis and gorillas all headed to their barns.

A silverback gorilla during the eclipse at the Fort Worth Zoo.

Fort Worth Zoo

Zoos have also been able to observe some unique daytime behaviors of nocturnal animals. At the Fort Worth Zoo, a ring-tailed cat and two species of owls showed increased activity during the day.

Also in Texas, keepers at the Dallas Zoo saw giraffes and zebras running during the eclipse. The chimpanzees patrolled outside their habitat at the zoo while all but one of the gorillas in a single group headed toward the gate they use to enter at night.

An ostrich at the Dallas Zoo laid an egg during the eclipse. Other birds grew louder in front of the totality, then fell silent. Flamingos and penguins huddled together.

The birds also showed unique behavior at the Indianapolis Zoo, a zoo spokesperson said. Macaws, parakeets and other birds have calmed down and perched high up, which is nocturnal behavior.

“You can hear they’re totally quiet now — not a sound or any movement,” Indianapolis Zoo President and CEO Dr. Robert Shumake said in a video recorded during the entire event.

The zoo’s flamingos huddled together and fell silent as well. Cheetahs and a warthog displayed behavior normally observed in the evening. Cheetahs paced the high point of their lawn during the eclipse while a warthog waited at their back door.

At the Philadelphia Zoo, which was not in the path of totality, visitors watched animals during the partial eclipse, CBS Philadelphia reported. Visitors were able to register with zoo staff, choose an animal to observe and use their phones to track its behavior before, during and after the eclipse. Most of the animals in the zoo didn’t seem at all perturbed by the partial eclipse.

Researchers also studied zoo animals during the 2017 solar eclipse. In a study published in 2020, researchers said they examined the behavior of 17 species – mammals, birds and reptiles – at Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, South Carolina, during the eclipse. They said about 75% of species showed some sort of change in response to the eclipse. They largely exhibited behaviors typically seen in the evening or night, with some animals showing signs of anxiety.

American zookeepers and researchers won’t have the opportunity to do this kind of research during a total eclipse again until 2044, when the next total eclipse will occur in the contiguous United States. Only three states are in the path of totality for the August 23, 2044 eclipse, according to the Planetary Society.

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