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Wednesday, 20 June, 2001, 10:03 GMT 11:03 UK
Will eclipse send animals to sleep?
An Indian monkey during the 1999 eclipse
Anecdotal evidence suggests eclipses scare animals
Wildlife buffs intend to put the anecdotes about how animals behave during an eclipse to the test when the moon blots out the sun over southern Africa on 21 June.

An elephant
Bush dwellers, including elephants, will be observed
Members of Wildlife and Environment Zimbabwe have launched an operation to observe the animals of the Mana Pools National Park in the days surrounding the first solar eclipse of the 21st century.

Teams of amateur researchers will trail the park's mammals and birds, and record their behaviour at five-minute intervals during sunrise, sunset and at mid-afternoon.

Wildlife and Environment Zimbabwe president Shirley Cormack says little scientific data has been gathered to support the widely held belief that eclipses trick animals into thinking night has fallen.

Thomas Edison
Edison: bird magnet
Perhaps one of the most unlikely contributors to this eclipse lore was the American inventor Thomas Edison.

In 1878, the Wyoming chicken coop Edison was using to house the scientific instruments with which he intended to observe a total eclipse was invaded by hens coming home to roost prematurely.

While prompting some animals to turn in early, it is thought the darkness and temperature dip of an eclipse trigger nocturnal species to leave their daytime shelter and begin foraging.

A warthog
Warthogs may be sensative to an eclipse
The Zimbabwean researchers will collect data on all of the park's animals - including elephants and lions - but it is expected the three minutes of total darkness will have the most noticeable effect on local bats, bushbabies, hippos, warthogs and baboons.

Ms Cormack also thinks insects, which are especially sensitive to temperature change, will behave oddly when the area of totality passes over Mana Pools National Park at 1518 local time.

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