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How will animals react? Zoo officials plan to study animal behavior during eclipse

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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) -- It’s not always easy getting up close to animals at the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium in Omaha but it was feeding time for the world’s tallest mammal when WOWT 6 News cameras arrived.

“She won’t ever bite you. It’s just her tongue that wraps around it. She doesn’t have top teeth -- only bottom teeth,” Chief Conservation Officer Cheryl Morris told guests at the giraffe exhibit. “Their tongues are 18-20 inches long. It’s purplish blue to help with sun protection. Most of their day is spent browsing in the trees.”

At a zoo, constant education is paramount to its success. But since a total solar eclipse is so rare, there’s not much literature to share about the impact it has on animals.

“We thought, ‘Gosh, there are a lot of questions people are asking about an eclipse. Will the behaviors of animals change?” Morris told WOWT 6 News.

So when the solar eclipse arrives in Nebraska, we jokingly asked the experts if they think the animals will rush the front gates.

“That would be unexpected," Morris laughed. "We wouldn’t expect it to be that extreme."

So what do they expect?

In all, the zoo will study 5 species – including giraffes.

“There might be an increase in inactive behavior and nighttime patterns. For example, we might expect the giraffe to move from the belt to the barn where they go at night,” she said.

They’ll also study butterflies. Morris said, “With our butterflies, we might see a reduction in their flying or foraging activity. They may just be less active.”

The ibis will also be monitored by trained keepers during the solar eclipse along with bats and lemurs. All were selected because of their distinct day and night patterns.

“We’ll do what we call instantaneous scans and we’ll do that at 3 time points.”

Staff will observe and document the animals at the beginning, middle and end of the eclipse while measuring the intensity of the light.

“What we find might be applicable to some other facility somewhere else one day experiencing a solar eclipse,” said Morris.

So when the solar eclipse rolls through the zoo will the animals think it’s just another extremely cloudy day – or will their behavior tell us something else?

Since the zoo will be open during the solar eclipse, we’re told the public can help observe any changes in behavior with the animals right alongside the trained staff.