More than 7,000 guests came to the Zoo to witness The Great American Solar eclipse. Many also helped us observe our animals and record their reactions during that brief period of totality (when the moon completely covers the sun leaving only a ring of light).
There were several behaviors that were expected and some that were a surprise. Perhaps our biggest surprise was the amount of cheering, shouting and screaming coming from our guests who were overwhelmed by the eclipse’s totality. This jubilant vocalization of humans may have contributed to animal behaviors. The sudden darkness may have been the reason. Or it may have been a combination of both. While we continue to collect observations, here is a summary of what was witnessed on August 21, 2017 from about 1:20 p.m. until about 1:30 p.m. (CDT):
Flamingos left the water and moved closer together in a pack as light faded. They moved around nervously through totality. As the light returned, the flock dispersed through the exhibit and returned to the water. (See video below)
The Great Blue Turaco noticed the light dimming during the eclipse. He looked up towards the sky and remained alert with his crest up. As darkness advanced he became more on guard, characterized by erect covert feathers, wing flipping and fanned out tail feathers. He remained on guard for the duration of totality and returned to a relaxed demeanor once the sunshine returned.
The Saddle Billed Storks did not react to any part of the eclipse until the light began to return. Then both birds looked up sideways to check the sky for a few seconds before returning to normal behavior.
In Lorikeet Landing – Lorikeets were completely silent during totality, and were reluctant to fly anywhere even when keepers tried to call them. The Western Grey Plantain Eater inside was flying around the aviary more than normal for that time of day. She also was very nervous during totality and held very still and alert during that time. Keepers saw lightning bugs out front of Lorikeet Landing during totality.
Immediately after totality, the Rhinoceros Hornbill went to the top of the enclosure and began vocalizing.
Cockatoos in Kangaroo Kickabout got really active and loud just before totality then quiet during it.
The Barn Owls opened their eyes when it got dark and started their wake-up routine (stretching, looking around) but went back to sleep when it got light again.
Various ambassador birds that are used for shows, school visits and educational programs were all being held in a large, outdoor enclosure. Leading up to totality, keepers stated that the birds were “putting feet up to be picked up” and “the birds screamed and screamed like they do when they think they have been accidentally left outside before a storm or when it is getting to be night time. During totality they got very quiet. After totality they began to scream again. They then were quiet again, making noises occasionally as they normally would.” A hawk in this same area began to roost for the night as it got darker and darker by putting one foot up and fluffing his feathers. He even began to shut his eyes. Then when it got bright he stood on both feet and acted like it was morning.
Video courtesy of the Associated Press
Kangaroos were all still asleep but once the noise from guests was heard they woke up, were confused (darkness, people in exhibit, flashes from cameras). The louder guests got the more active the kangaroos got. They did jump around the exhibit as they seemed confused. It took about 30 minutes for them to settle down after totality.
Giraffes were visibly nervous leading up to and during totality. When the light returned, giraffes were seen galloping around the exhibit for several minutes. (See video below!)
The white rhinoceroses were sleeping under a shaded area through most of the eclipse. They got up when music from a nearby field stopped and a person started talking through the speakers. The rhinos did run to the back of the exhibit to their chute door when thousands of people in the nearby field starting cheering during totality. After the noise stopped and it was light again (about 5 – 10 minutes) all of the rhinos went back under their shade structure and went back to sleep.
Two of the sheep at the barn "baa-ed" to come in as darkness approached.
A couple of goats turned their ears to an alert state and one moved to the door of their after-hours area. The rest had no reaction.
Red ruffed lemurs were all resting before the eclipse. As the sky got darker, they became more active in the exhibit. The keeper then walked over to the ring-tailed lemur exhibit where the same behavior was noted leading up to totality. As the sky got darker, 3 of the 4 ring-tails seemed more active. They were pacing around the exhibit very similar to what they do at closing time. Once in totality, the exhibit was pitch black due to the bamboo coverage. When the sun came back out, they were still walking around the exhibit, very active. They settled down within minutes of the sun coming back out and were back to resting. The keeper walked back to the red ruffed lemur exhibit and saw two of them clinging to the top of the mesh (not unusual). And they were all active as well and settling back down. So they all perked up and seemed a little confused as to why they were out on exhibit in the dark. But then didn't seem to be affected once there was light again.
There was no noticeable reaction from siamang, cougar, clouded leopard, red panda, cattle, donkeys or the miniature horse.
Video courtesy of Nikki Burdine's Twitter (@NikkiBurdine)