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Granby Zoo studied animal behavior during a total solar eclipse

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Granby Zoo used last Monday's total solar eclipse to study the behavior of some of its animals.

The zoo's research and conservation department was asked by a professor of astrophysics at the Université du Quebec à Montréal to take part in a study of the animals' behavior and collect data on their reactions during the rare phenomenon.

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The park is located in the Estrie region, which offered one of the most beautiful views of the total solar eclipse in southern Quebec. Although humans are fascinated by the event, few studies have been conducted on animals' reactions to it.

Chelsey Paquette, conservation coordinator at Granby Zoo, said the park jumped at the chance to get involved. A study will be published to present the results.

“What we can conclude from this is that light definitely has an impact on animals, and whatever data we find, the conclusions we can draw from zoo species can probably be applied to wild species as well,” Paquette said. “This is a rare event, so it is very special to collect data during a rare event to better understand how light in the presence of the sun can affect animals.”

Observers recorded the animals' activities on two days a week before the eclipse between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m., then during the event itself, and on two days the following week.

The reactions they experienced varied.

Japanese macaques, for example monkeys native to Japan, reacted differently than the researchers expected.

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“We expected them to be excited, want to group together and go to their nighttime habitats, for example,” Paquette said. “But for the duration of the eclipse, it was almost like they stopped screaming, they stopped all their movements and they just turned their backs to the sun and were just zen and calm.”

Red-crowned cranes are usually quite loud, but they also became quiet as the eclipse reached its peak, Paquette noted.

The male red panda spent most of the afternoon wandering around his enclosure, but as soon as the eclipse came, he climbed a tree and slept with the female the entire time, which Paquette said was unusual.

Paquette was classified as a Himalayan black bear.

“We assumed that they would likely move to their nocturnal habitat when the sun was completely covered. It was pretty much like night,” she said. “But the bears continued to sleep throughout the afternoon and seemed little affected by the eclipse.”

Tahrs, hoofed animals related to goats and sheep, usually rest quietly in the afternoon, while half the animals in the zoo usually lie down.

“But during the eclipse, 100 percent of these animals were awake and walking around, so it was actually a pretty drastic change for them,” the conservationist said.

The zoo has attempted to collect data on a wide range of species, some of which are typically active during the day and others which are more active at night.

One observation was that prey species responded more strongly to the eclipse than predator species, Paquette said.

“It’s interesting, these little observations that we were able to make.”

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