Will giraffes do backflips? Will spiders tear down their webs? Will nocturnal animals emerge? Will the flower buds close? These are the types of questions Elizabeth Clemens, Director of Education of the Riverbanks Zoo & Garden in Columbia, SC, has been fielding daily since news spread about the upcoming Total Solar Eclipse on August 21. Columbia is in the direct path of totality and is expected to experience approximately 2 minutes and 30 seconds of darkness, the longest duration on the southeast coast.
The Riverbanks Zoo is planning for a massive influx of visitors and wants to tap into a collective power of observation to better understand what impact the eclipse will have on its animals. To date, not much is known. “There is more scientific research available on the existence of Sasquatch than the eclipse,” says Adam Hartstone-Rose, the Zoo’s adjunct scientist and professor of cell biology and anatomy at USC Medical School. The Zoo team plans to capitalize on this opportunity. They’ve put together a research team comprised of their own zookeepers, USC students, and groups of volunteers, all who are tasked to observe specific animals during the eclipse. The animals with outdoor enclosures will be closely watched, like the gorillas, baboons, giraffes, elephants, birds, flamingos, tortoises, and more.
Visitors to the Riverbanks Zoo will also be invited to join in the research project and be solar eclipse scientists for the day. Through an information sheet, they can observe and record any unusual animal behavior. “We want to keep it fun and simple so all our guests can engage,” says Clemens. “We will collect that data to better understand how the animals reacted.”
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One burning question: Is it okay for the animals to stare at the sun, or will they need to wear eclipse glasses, too? “Well, we’re not going to put glasses on the animals, but it will be interesting to see if they even notice that it gets dark during the day,” says Clemens. “For animals that don’t have predators in the sky, they rarely look up at the sun.”
And the likelihood of giraffe backflips or nocturnal animals awakening? “Pretty low,” says Clemens. “If you were asleep and the light came on outside for 2 minutes, would you start your day, or say oh that’s weird, and go back asleep?”
But you never know. Doctor Doug Duncan, Director of Fiske Planetarium in Boulder, CO, says he’s witnessed truly bizarre animal behavior during past total solar eclipses. Watch and see.
Learn more about the Total Solar Eclipse and events in Columbia, SC.