There’s a long-held belief that animals sense earthquakes in advance, although the evidence is largely ‘anecdotal’ and thus many scientists remain skeptical. Well, here’s some more anecdotes to add to the list: the Smithsonian Zoo in Washington, D.C. has released a post-earthquake update in which it describes some of the unusual animal behaviour in the lead up to yesterday’s 5.9 quake:
The red ruffed lemurs sounded an alarm call about 15 minutes before the quake and then again just after it occurred.
…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 and collected her baby, Kibibi, and moved to the top of the tree structure as well.
Iris (an orangutan) began “belch vocalizing” — an unhappy/upset noise normally reserved for extreme irritation — before the quake and continued this vocalization following the quake.
…The Zoo has a flock of 64 flamingos. Just before the quake, the birds rushed about and grouped themselves together. They remained huddled during the quake.
Dr. Don Moore, the zoo’s associate director for animal care sciences, theorized that the animals were picking up on sounds or vibrations below the level of human perception. “I think given that they’re sensing it beforehand, they must be sensing the pre-rumbles that create some kind of vibration in the ground,” Moore said, “or hearing something we can’t hear.”
However, one interesting facet of the report is the revelation that the zoo’s pandas “did not appear to respond to the earthquake” – previous reports from earthquakes in China have suggested that the iconic bear species may have some ‘pre-quake perception’. Another fascinating behavioural insight from the report: the ducks and beavers jumped in the water at the onset of the earthquake and stayed in there until well after it was finished.