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In the shadow of the moon

News has come in from zoos in China that their captive animals reacted in various ways to last week’s solar eclipse. Elephants and giraffes apparently returned indoors, thinking it was night, and cranes and flamingos fell asleep before emerging again when it became light – starting the life of another day.

Wednesday’s eclipse of six minutes and 39 seconds, when the moon came between the earth and the sun (blocking the sun’s rays), was the longest solar eclipse of the century and was visible across Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific.

As I was on my way to our sanctuary in Vietnam, Rainbow called from Chengdu and was thrilled to report that he had been standing outside the rehab area of our sanctuary when the eclipse caused “night” for over six minutes. Rainbow managed to get some great photos of the historic event.

So how did our bears react to the phenomenon? Apparently by doing .................. absolutely nothing. In fact, it seems our carefree residents barely raised an eyebrow between them, continuing to enjoy their picnic on the grass! But as Rainbow reported, it was a different story for our human team members at Chengdu.

Rainbow’s eclipse diary 22 July

Chengdu was very cloudy this am and we didn’t expect to see the eclipse at all. But still we prepared ourselves, with cell phones and cameras in hand. And some, like Forrest, David and Dai [pictured here] equipped themselves with thick safety glasses, which the maintenance team uses in welding.

All of a sudden, we saw a small, light-blue hole in the clouds and then the most exciting thing happened – the sun partially disappeared, blocked by the moon! Some of us cried! I didn’t, as I was using every second to record this once-per-500-years phenomenon (in MBRC) by camera and video camera. Often, the sun disappeared in the clouds.

Then without notice, the day became dark, at an amazing pace. It was a unique experience to witness such a natural phenomenon, even though we missed seeing a total eclipse.

At the time, all the lights on the balcony of the admin building, bear houses, and accommodation were switched on. I don't know about the others, but I felt quite wired! It was nothing like 9am – more like 9pm. In the darkness (made even darker by the cloudy weather) I ran to the other end of the building where I could see a few blurry black balls slowly roaming around the enclosure.

I checked with [bear worker] Chen on the walkie-talkie to see if all the bears were doing anything special to “celebrate” such a magnificent moment. "Nothing abnormal! They are actually enjoying their food on the grass,” Chen walkie-talkied back.

When some light returned minutes later, Rainbow snapped our lovely Laetizia, clearly unfazed by all the fuss:

And as to our other laid-back bears, vet nurse volunteer Judy sent this lovely message summing up her feeling as to why they didn’t respond to the eclipse:

I have a lovely vision of them all just lazing around doing very little and not letting anything interfere with that nothingness. Animals Asia provides all they’d need – they know you’ll switch the sun back on when you’ve finished testing or weighing it.

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