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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Zoo mystery: How did apes and birds know quake was coming?

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By Joel Achenbach, / Thursday, August 25, 6:45 AM.

(Bill O'Leary/ WASHINGTON POST ) - Iris, an orangutan, who let out a gutteral distress call moments before yesterday's earthquake actually struck, perches on a tower of the O-line at the National Zoo on Aug. 24.

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.

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