Nashville Zookeepers Wonder: Was It The Eclipse That Spooked Animals — Or The Screaming People? | Nashville Public Radio

Nashville Zookeepers Wonder: Was It The Eclipse That Spooked Animals — Or The Screaming People?

Aug 22, 2017

Here's a follow up of sorts to a story WPLN's Meribah Knight did before the eclipse on how the Nashville Zoo was preparing to observe, with the help of citizen scientists, the reaction of animals during the eclipse.


Heat dominated the mood of the attendees and the animals at the start of eclipse day. Families in self-made matching t-shirts drenched with sweat wandered around looking for the next available patch of shade while flamingoes huddled under trees away from the blazing sun.

Still, Nate Boles and his family from Biloxi, Mississippi, were happy they chose this spot.

“I figured this way you wouldn’t be stuck in a field staring up at the sun for an hour and a half, and the kids with have other things they could occupy themselves with.”    

The two boys from the Boles family were split on where to look when it was time for totality.

The youngest Bruce said he would watch the animals but the oldest, British, said he would prefer to keep his eyes on the sky.

As the moon began to cut into the sun, nearly everyone in the crowd looked up (instead of observing animals). The incessantly buzzing insects counted down like a plastic wind-up toy running out of energy.

At the moment of totality, the crowd erupted with whoops, claps and cheers with one young boy calling out the final seconds in a repeated fevered shout, “It’s getting dark! It’s getting dark!”

As for how some of the animals reacted, primate keeper Amy Haddock says as the moment got closer, she observed the gibbons ascending to the top of the trees, higher than they usually do. As the moon covered the sun, the pair did not go back into their habitat like they would at dusk but moved quickly around the exhibit. That’s a behavior that seemed to mirror that of other animals seen galloping and flittering around during the event like the giraffes and flamingos.

A group of keepers swapping stories after totality said one of the more unexpected things they saw was a group of wild bats swooping through the parking lot when everything went dark.

After totality, the crowds thinned quickly but some hardcore fans stuck around for the other side of eclipse. Nashville sound engineer Grant Green said the experience was overwhelming. He says it was greater than what he thought it would be. He called totality “utterly amazing” and his son chimed in that he was already looking forward to the next eclipse to hit the United States in 2024.