Researchers to study animal behavior at zoo during eclipse

Researchers to study animal behavior at zoo during eclipse

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Researchers will be at Riverbanks Zoo and Garden during the eclipse Monday to see if it has any effect the zoo's nearly 2,000 animals.

There is currently very little research about how animals respond during a total solar eclipse. That is something that scientists and researchers here at Riverbanks Zoo are hoping to change Monday.

While there are personal accounts of what people have witnessed during a total solar eclipse, like birds singing and bats flying, Riverbanks Adjunct Scientist Adam Hartstone-Rose said there is currently no hard evidence the eclipse caused that behavior.

"That's the problem with a lot of anecdotal observations that have been made during eclipses is that they are usually completely out of context," Hartstone-Rose said. "So the spiders that tear down their webs, of course, they tear down their webs at other times, so is that a particularly special behavior during an eclipse?"

They are questions Hartstone-Rose and others say they have the unique opportunity to try and answer. Riverbanks Zoo has selected more than a dozen animals to study based on several factors.

"One of the really cool things about the study we are doing is that we have a mix between diurnal and then crepuscular nocturnal animals that were looking at," said Ed Diebold, Riverbanks' Director of Animal Collections and Conservation. Those are animals are active during the day -- diurnal -- versus the night -- crepuscular nocturnal.

Flamingos have been picked as one of the more than a dozen animals to be studied during the eclipse. They are diurnal.

"One thing that's great about the flamingos is that they are camped outside 24 hours a day," said Hartstone-Rose. "So these animals are used to the daily solar cycle. So we will see, are they even going to react like it's the evening? Do they even have any specific behavior that's evening behavior?"

The Siamang ape is also active during the day and loud.

"These guys may, and they do, vocalize a lot during the day but hopefully science will let us 'tease out' whether the eclipse triggers that behavior as opposed to it being random behavior," said Diebold.

Then there's the nocturnal Tawny Frogmouth.

"So the question we have is when there is darkness in the middle of the day at a clear blue sky, will these two and a half minutes of darkness cause the Tawny frogmouth to become active?" asked Diebold.

They're all questions, that even in cloudy skies, these scientists hope to better answer.

"There's a good chance that it's going to be overcast and the truth is that is science. Whenever you're working with live animals or with the weather things happen and predictably but the eclipse will still be an eerie event," said Hartstone-Rose. "It will be very dark this is lights are going to come up at the zoo, and they're going to be a lot of people here and a lot of energy and a lot of buzz so no matter what happens the animals may react to the darkness."
Guests who might capture any unusual actions are invited to personally document their observations and share on Riverbanks' social media channels: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat.

The Zoo also is planning a few special activities leading up to the eclipse Monday: encounter animal ambassadors up-close, check out animal enrichment at select exhibits, enjoy an interactive craft, or watch the eclipse from one of the Zoo's many unique viewpoints.

The zoo can comfortably hold about 8,000-10,000 people, and zoo officials expect they will reach that number about two hours after opening the gates. Visitors were waiting outside the gates as early as 7 a.m. Monday.

Zoo officials say for months they have been fielding calls about when people can begin parking in the zoo's parking lot.

Copyright 2017 WIS. All rights reserved.