National Zoo Animals Went Berserk Before Earthquake


Written by Stephen Messenger, a Treehugger blogger

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.

This post was originally published by Treehugger.

Related Stories:

Japan’s Pet Survivors — Stories From First Disaster Team

Struggle To Prevent Mass Stranding Of Pilot Whales

Dogs Can Sniff Out Lung Cancer in Humans

Photo from piglicker via flickr creative commons


Rin S.
Rin S6 years ago

Wow, animals really do have a better feel of the world than we do.

Joy Jin
Joy Jin6 years ago

cool. animals are amazing

Eternal Gardener
Eternal G6 years ago


Sonny Honrado
Sonny Honrado6 years ago

They did feel its coming.

The Other Robert O
Robert O6 years ago

That was the most I have ever felt the ground move! It was both exciting and a little unsettling. But I have to say our home in the 60's and 70's was just north of NYC, and our house rocked often enough. An old train lamp up on the third floor had worn an arc in the paint from swinging north to south.

Carrie Anne Brown

great and interesting article, thanks for sharing :)

Manuela B.
Manuela B6 years ago

we should take more notice of animals and their behavior.

Uma Chernoff
Uma Chernoff6 years ago

Animals consciousness is rooted in the present so their awareness isn't limited by linear concept of time.The present moment from that perspective is "Great Now Awareness".The nature of human consciousness is mandated by abstractions from Linear mortality so our attention isn't so fluid and our sense of measurment of the time of awareness and reaction to an event is normal to us so we are amazed when other species are aware of a coming event though to them it isn't "coming" but already here. We have this capacity but because of our focus dependant on Linear sequence it is surpressed in most.

Eileen N.
Eileen Noonan6 years ago

My cat very much a home body during the day, jumped up from her post in the couch in the living room and went outside and disperen.

Brigid C.
Brigid C6 years ago

Giid artucke Animals are very sensitive to disasters on the way..