Animals, staff and visitors at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. felt the vibrations from the 5.8 earthquake on August 23. Luckily, no injuries were reported. But according to a Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute report, the zoo’s animal care staff did recognize some changes in the behavior of the animals before, during, and after the earthquake.
Great Ape House
The earthquake hit the Great Ape House during afternoon feeding time.
– About five to ten seconds before the quake, many of the apes, including Kyle (an orangutan) and Kojo (a western lowland gorilla), abandoned their food and climbed to the top of the tree-like structure in the exhibit.
– About three seconds before the quake, Mandara (a gorilla) let out a shriek, collected her baby, and moved to the top of the tree structure, as well.
– Iris (an orangutan) began “belch vocalizing” – an unhappy or upset noise normally reserved for extreme irritation – before the quake and continued this vocalization following the quake.
Reptile Discovery Center
– All the snakes (including copperheads, cottonmouth, and false water cobra) began writhing during the quake. Normally, they are inactive during the day.
– Murphy, the zoo’s Komodo dragon, sought shelter inside.
– Just before the quake, the zoo’s flock of 64 flamingos rushed about and grouped themselves together. They remained huddled during the quake.
Small Mammal House
– The red-ruffed lemurs sounded an alarm call about 15 minutes before the quake and then again just after it occurred.
– The howler monkeys sounded an alarm call just after the earthquake.
– The black and rufous giant elephant-shrew hid in his habitat and refused to come out for afternoon feeding.
– The lion pride was outside. They all stood still and faced the building, which rattled during the quake. All settled down within minutes.
– Damai (a female Sumatran tiger) jumped at the start of the earthquake in a startled fashion. Her behavior returned to normal after the quake.
According to keepers, the giant pandas did not appear to respond to the earthquake.
After the earthquake, zoo buildings were closed and checked for structural damage. Zoo gates were closed to incoming visitors, but exits were open for guests to leave at their leisure. The zoo reopened this morning (August 24) on time.
Bottom line: The animal care staff at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. recognized changes in the behavior of the animals before, during, and after the earthquake on August 23, 2011.
Eleanor Imster has helped write and edit EarthSky since 1995. She was an integral part of the award-winning EarthSky radio series almost since it began until it ended in 2013. Today, as Lead Editor at EarthSky.org, she helps present the science and nature stories and photos you enjoy. She also serves as one of the voices of EarthSky on social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and G+. She and her husband live in Tennessee and have two grown sons.