D.C. earthquake 2011: How did the animals react?

(Courtesy National Zoo)

Howler monkeys howled, snakes squirmed and red ruffed lemurs sounded an alarm call – these are just a few reactions of animals at the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park.

The red ruffed lemurs were the first to notice the impeding shaking, sounding an alarm call about 15 minutes before the quake and again just after it occurred. The howler monkeys, too, sounded an alarm call just after the earthquake.

"I'm no longer surprised by animal abilities. I know they have better sensory capabilities than we do,” said Dr. Don Moore, the associate director of animal care services at the National Zoo.

Moore says as soon as the shaking stopped, keepers were reporting strange animal behaviors that happened right before the quake.

The great apes were eating when many abandoned their food and climbed onto the fake trees in their exhibit. A female gorilla let out a shriek, gathered her baby and climbed into the trees seconds before the quake.

"We thought it was strange. We stopped what we were doing and watched her and then we knew what was going on once we felt the shaking,” primate keeper KC Braesch said.

Orangutan Iris began “belch vocalizing,” which the Zoo says is “an unhappy/upset noise normally reserved for extreme irritation.”

All the snakes began writhing during the quake even though they remain inactive during the day. Murphy, the Zoo’s Komodo dragon, sought shelter inside.

The earthquake caused the fish tanks to shake and created waves. Ducks immediately jumped into their pool when the quake hit. Beavers stopped eating, stood on their hind legs and looked around, then went for the water, too.

The Zoo’s 64 flamingos rushed about and grouped themselves together just before the quake. They remained huddled during the quake. The lions outside watched their building shake.

“All of these behaviors were a-typical given the behaviors we observe in these animals at this time of day every single day," Moore said.

Completely unperturbed were the Giant Pandas, which “did not appear to respond to the earthquake.”

The park reports that no animals, staff or visitors were hurt during Tuesday’s 5.8-magnitude earthquake.

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