National Zoo Animals Went Berserk Before Earthquake

gorilla earthquake photo
Photo: shannonkringen / cc

It had been over a century since an earthquake last rattled the East Coast, so it's no surprise that the millions of people who felt the shaking yesterday were caught off guard -- but it turns out, as a species, humans may have been the only ones. According to staffers from the National Zoo in Washington D.C., in the minutes leading up to the seismic rumblings dozens of animals began acting strangely, clearly agitated, as if they could sense the quake before it struck.Up to around 15 minutes before the 5.8 magnitude earthquake rattle across the nation's capital and much of New England, a variety of animals began exhibiting unusual behavior which seemed to indicate some foreknowledge of the tremor -- typically considered one of the least predictable, and therefor often deadliest, form of natural disaster.

Washington D.C.'s Fox News affiliate spoke with a National Zoo staffer who described the pre-quake scene:

"Flamingoes that are normally one or two body lengths apart ran together in this kind of huddled flock," recalled Don Moore, the zoo's associate director of animal care.

"We saw our elephants, actually standing alert, " said Brandie Smith, a senior curator of animal care sciences.

The zoo says it was the red ruffed lemurs that sounded the first alarm.

"They started vocalizing and they went straight up into the trees which is what they should do in the wild if they sense danger, " explained Smith.

Ducks jumped into the water. Snakes began writhing, when they're normally still. The giant elephant shrew hid in his habitat and refused to come out for the afternoon feeding.

Zookeepers say that it was only after the earthquake struck that they understood what was behind the animals' strange behavior. The zoo's director of animal care, Don Moore, says that the 'early-warning' is evidence of a refined sensory ability among animals, and that they were responding to a slight vibrations in the ground that may have preceded the quake.

This, of course, isn't the first time evidence seems to suggest animals can predict earthquakes -- in fact, it may have been more surprising had a report like this not surfaced following yesterday's rumblings. Most often, it seems that animals 'sense' an impending quake just minutes before it occurs, but in some cases, the window may be wider. Two days before a devastating earthquake rattled Christchurch, New Zealand last February, for example, over a hundred pilot whales inexplicably stranded themselves on a nearby beach.

Still, other mysterious animal behavior preceding earthquakes offers further indications of their foresight. With earthquakes being so often deadly (though fortunately not in yesterday's event), a little warning could go a long way to saving lives -- so it may be time we start listening.

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