Solar eclipse | A zoo at night… for three minutes

What will the little panda do at 3:26 p.m. on April 8, in Granby? Will the snow leopard emerge from its sweet torpor? Will the camel start to gallop? Will the Japanese macaque express a certain stress by being aggressive towards its little friends?

This is what the Conservation and Research team at the Granby Zoo wants to find out. At the instigation of astronomer Pierre Chastenay, professor of science education at UQAM, the team concocted a research project to observe the effect of the eclipse on the zoo’s residents.

“It’s a rather fun project, but one that we’re going to take to the scientific sphere with observers, serious data, very serious protocols,” says Patrick Paré, director of the Conservation and Research team. This is not an animal welfare or health issue. The aim is to see if the eclipse has an impact on the behavior of animals. »

The Granby Zoo is located directly in the path of the eclipse on April 8. For three minutes it will be dark there. The Conservation and Research team has been preparing for the event for months.


We will observe the behavior of certain birds, such as the Japanese crane, during the eclipse.

Special species

Several decisions had to be made. What species to observe, for example. It would have been impossible to observe the behavior of all the animals in the zoo.

“We wanted mammals and birds,” says Mr. Paré. We wanted diurnal animals, nocturnal animals. We wanted pairs, groups, we also wanted to have species that had been studied to be able to compare our data with the scientific literature. »

The Granby Zoo team finally put together a list of 12 species, which notably includes small pandas, the snow leopard, Himalayan tahr goats, zebras, camels, dromedaries, the Himalayan bear and ostriches. Ten observers will note the different behaviors of the animals from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the day of the eclipse, but also two days before and two days after. They will follow a tight protocol, i.e. an observation every minute for each specimen, based on an ethogram containing 21 possible behaviors.


How will the Himalayan bear react to the eclipse?

“38,000 pieces of data will be taken over these five days,” says Mr. Paré. It’s a nice little challenge. »

The zoo will be closed to the public on April 8, but only because it’s always closed on Mondays at this time of year. The study could take place in the presence of visitors, but they would have been invited to show moderation during the eclipse: a sudden round of applause could distort the animals’ behavior.

“Our initial hypothesis is that normally diurnal animals will prepare to go to sleep when darkness arrives, while nocturnal animals should perhaps be more active,” explains Patrick Paré.

The literature shows that birds do indeed roost high up when darkness sets in. Animals that live in groups gather together or move to their night quarters. Animals that like the cool of the night, like camels, are active.

“We noticed in one of the zoos that the camels start to run more during an eclipse,” notes Mr. Paré. Maybe our camels will also start running, which we rarely see. We can’t wait to check it out. »


The snow leopard is normally a nocturnal species.

The snow leopard at the Granby Zoo, a nocturnal species, could also be active. Tahr goats might gather. The Lophophorus, a large bird, could perch in a tree.

“As far as our Japanese macaques are concerned, that intrigues us a lot because in the literature, we find somewhat particular behaviors among primates, such as more aggressiveness among chimpanzees. We saw chimpanzees go up high and observe the sun. »

Do the animals realize that something abnormal is happening?

“I think they will simply think that it is night coming, or they will not think anything,” says Mr. Paré. But we could hypothesize that primates are perhaps more likely to perceive an extraordinary phenomenon. »


How Japanese macaques react to the eclipse could be interesting.

Projects elsewhere

The team hopes to make the results of the study public, perhaps through a scientific publication. The Granby Zoo is in contact with the Fort Worth Zoo, which will carry out a similar project. The Toledo and Indianapolis zoos will also collect data.

NASA also undertook a massive citizen science project, asking Americans to note the sounds of nature before, during and after the eclipse.

Back in Granby, we still don’t know how the little panda will react.

“There is no data in the literature on the little panda, which is why we wanted to include it in the project,” explains Patrick Paré. We have two individuals: will they climb trees because it’s dark and they want to protect themselves, or will they go down to the ground to go to their night quarters? We have no idea. »


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