Her name is Iris, and with her straight, elegant, red-orange hair she is beyond dispute the prettiest orangutan at the National Zoo. She’s calm, quiet, unflappable. “Iris lives the life of a queen,” says great-ape keeper Amanda Bania.
On Tuesday afternoon, the queen lost her cool.
It happened a little before 2 p.m. Primate keeper K.C. Braesch was standing just a few feet away when Iris emitted a loud, guttural cry, known to scientists as belch-vocalizing. Iris then scrambled to the top of her enclosure.
Braesch stepped back and scanned the enclosure to see what might have agitated the ape. Was it Kiko, the male? Although generally a lump, Kiko can turn into a hothead and throw things. But no, Kiko was lounging.
Then — all this had happened within about five seconds — Braesch felt the earthquake.
“Animals seem to know,” she said Wednesday. “You always hear it anecdotally, but this is the first time I’ve seen it.”
Orangutans, gorillas, flamingos and red-ruffed lemurs acted strangely before humans detected the magnitude-5.8 earthquake. Now the question hovering over the zoo is: What did the animals know, and when did they know it?
Thursday, August 25, 2011
Can Animals Sense Earthquakes Coming?
Our cats and dog did not anticipate Tuesday's tremor, my family reports. But at the National Zoo, lots of weird things happened:
Five seconds is not enough to represent anything magical, since the earth may actually be moving strangely up to a minute before any person feels the quake. But animals predicting earthquakes is one of those questions that has hovered around the boundary of science and folklore for a century, and still hovers there.