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Parc Safari animals turn a blind eye to the eclipse

It is hard to imagine anybody being bored by the spectacular total solar eclipse that crossed over the Valley on April 8, but for most of the animals at Parc Safari, the afternoon passed by like any other at the Hemmingford-based zoo.

Zoologists and volunteers worked to collect visual and audio recordings of the animals that were outside, or those that could be monitored, including the giraffes, lions, hyenas, wolves, and lynx, as well as llamas, alpacas, and the dromedaries. The data will be transmitted to the Eclipse Soundscapes Project, which is a citizen-science project funded by NASA to study how solar eclipses affect life on earth.

Parc Safari’s director of zoology, Aurélien Berthelot, says that “Realistically, in terms of mammals, there was very little chance of anything happening.” The park’s lions, for example, sleep up to 18 hours per day, and while some roared during the eclipse, others slept right through the rare celestial event.

Out of all the carnivores, the hyenas seemed to be the least comfortable with the sudden changes in temperature, light, and atmosphere. After discussions with his team of zoologists, Berthelot reports that the hyenas began to produce vocalizations. He is not convinced, however, that this behaviour was associated with the eclipse.

Berthelot says the eclipse was much more likely to impact humans, and he suggests the tendency to expect changes in animal behaviour may be linked to a phenomenon called anthropomorphism, when human characteristics or behaviours are attributed to animals.

 

The hyenas at Parc Safari produced vocalisations during the total solar eclipse on April 8 however zoologists with the Hemmingford based zoo are not able to say whether this behaviour had anything to do with the astronomical event PHOTO Sarah Rennie

 

“With the hyenas, we had some behaviour,” Berthelot acknowledges, but cautioned that the activity observed was not all that out of the ordinary. He says attributing a change in animal behaviour to a single element, such as the dramatic environmental changes observed during the eclipse, is in fact quite complex. For example, trees had been cut down near to the hyena enclosure earlier in the day, and this may have caused some agitation.

Another factor to consider is that the timing of the eclipse coincided with the hyenas’ regular feeding time. Berthelot says to complicate things even further, all the carnivores at Parc Safari fast on Sundays. “Mondays are often a little more intense,” he admits.

No particular behaviours were observed by zoologists in the animals who were outside during the eclipse. “The most convincing species in which we could have seen something is insects,” explained Berthelot, “But, we have no insects here.”

The zoologist explains that despite their rather lacklustre observations, it was important for Parc Safari to contribute to the Eclipse Soundscapes Project. According to the ARISA Lab, which is coordinating the participatory study, “Eclipses provide a rare opportunity to advance soundscape ecology research by studying how animals react to sudden, dramatic changes in natural stimuli.” Berthelot says that the data recorded at Parc Safari was not interpreted by his zoologists. He says it is possible that something was recorded that will be significant to the study.

“A zoo isn’t just a tourist attraction. It is also about participating in conservation and research,” he says, noting he will always jump at the opportunity to participate in research studies. “That is also our role,” he adds

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