Thousands watch animal behavior, total solar eclipse at Nashville Zoo


Close to 7,000 people watched Monday's total solar eclipse at the Nashville Zoo to see how the animals would react.

“I think it was a fantastic day,” said Jim Bartoo, zoo spokesperson. “It really is. I’m still thrilled with what we had here today, and personally I didn’t think this was going to be such an emotional experience. It was a tremendous, tremendous experience.”

Zoo staff said some animals got much more active, while others thought it was time go to sleep.

“Flamingos started to flock closer together and then spread out after the sun came back out,” Bartoo said. “We had some bird species that were back behind the scenes that started getting very vocal.”

Rhinos and giraffes started running when the sky went dark, but the giraffes were the stars. Especially 6-month-old Mazi and 3-year-old Nasha.

"They're crazy running around," said Nate Zatezalo, who came from Cleveland, where he volunteers at the zoo there.

During the full eclipse, all four giraffes ran. That's not unusual for the two juveniles who scamper at twilight after the crowds leave.

But the father giraffe, Congo, "usually doesn't do anything other than being the dad" and is regal and above it all, said zoo volunteer Stephan Foust. But even the above-it-all dad got in on the running during darkness.

Zookeepers reported that before totality the orangutans climbed to the highest heights they've ever gone.

Teresa Morehead of Indianapolis came to the zoo to help track the animals on an app called iNaturalist.

She staked out the giraffes and rhinos. The rhinos wandered a bit, seeming to head to bed.

"I was surprised to the see they were running,'" she said, although noting that they seemed more confused than anything.

The only trouble was with 7,000 visitors and lots of noise — drowning out the zoo animals, crickets and cicadas — zookeepers still have to figure whether the strange behavior was from the eclipse or the people there to watch the show.

The kangaroos became nervous, but it seemed more because of the cheers that erupted during the totality instead of the darkness.

Aside from the midday confusion, Bartoo said all of the animals are happy and healthy.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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