Will the Eclipse Freak Out Animals?

Oregon Zoo staff will be closely watching the animals on August 21, when the sky goes dark around 10 a.m. In Portland, we’ll see 99.4% of the sun covered, raising questions about what that will mean for animals whose daily routines are driven by the cycles of night and day.

“My background is in animal behavior, so I’m pretty excited to just watch what the animals do and learn myself to see if there’s any change in behavior for a dark period in the middle of the day,” Oregon Zoo Director Don Moore said.

Herd animals like elephants, hippos and giraffes are most active during the day, while night hunters like lions and owls are not. The sudden change in daylight could stir up some out of the ordinary behavior for animals, but zoo staff don’t expect anything drastic.

A lion at the Oregon Zoo, July 26, 2017 (KOIN)
A lion at the Oregon Zoo, July 26, 2017 (KOIN)

“I don’t think were gonna see any anxious behavior on the part of animals because again, this is just a small wrinkle in the fabric of time and they’ve evolved over long time periods,” Oregon Zoo Director Don Moore said. “We see darkness during thunderstorms and we don’t see a lot of change in animal behavior at that time so we’ll see what happens.”

Moore admits while they don’t expect to see anything strange, zoo staff really don’t know how the eclipse will play out for the zoo animals.

“Will bats and owls actually come out during a two minute eclipse?” Moore said. “We don’t know.”

Zoo visitors offered their best guesses for what the eclipse might mean for animals, some predicting a short-lived nap or nocturnal animals with night vision thinking it’s time to go out.

Elephants at the Oregon Zoo (KOIN 6 News, file)
Elephants at the Oregon Zoo (KOIN 6 News, file)

Moore said the last time he experienced an eclipse, his Labrador just slept through it, unfazed.

“As a human, our bodies wouldn’t go to sleep because our body clocks — even if it’s dark — we can still be out,” Zoo visitor Katie said. “People get up early, they stay up late, so I would think that some animals might be the same.”

Moore encourages curious minds to visit the zoo and watch what happens, or just watch their pets at home and see how they react.

“People like to observe animals, whether it’s their dogs and cats at home or animals in the zoo or birds in the woods,” Moore said. “This is just one more opportunity to observe animals in maybe a strange situation and see what they do.”

Bats at the Oregon Zoo, July 26, 2017 (KOIN)
Bats at the Oregon Zoo, July 26, 2017 (KOIN)

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