February 11, 2019

This week, in honor of Valentine’s Day, we will highlight some of the animal couples here at the Zoo. Mating in the animal world can be different from species to species. Some couples will mate for life, others just once. Some parents take turns raising their offspring, while others do not. Here are some of the stories of our #ZooCouples as told by the keepers who care for them.

Click on a picture to enlarge it. 

"Relocating for Love"

In late 2018, Hyacinth, a female Speke’s gazelle, traveled over 2,000 miles from Portland, Oregon, to meet her new companion, Hyde, here at the Saint Louis Zoo. This recommendation was made by the Species Survival Plan (SSP) for Speke’s gazelles. An SSP is similar to a dating service for animals. It pairs animals together based on genetics to improve the sustainability of the population. So far, the new pair is doing well together, and they can be seen daily in the Zoo’s Red Rocks area. - Tim Thier, Zoological Manager of Ungulates

“Meet Me in St. Louis”

The Saint Louis Zoo’s Cabot’s tragopan birds—named General Tso and Empress—met here in St. Louis. He (General Tso) is from San Diego, and she (Empress) is from New York. They were paired together, hoping to make a love connection. Although his striking plumage is unforgettable, she is often difficult to spot, as her plumage needs to blend in to her surroundings to keep her and her chicks safe. Despite the eight-year age difference, this pair of Cabot’s tragopans hit it off from the start and have been very prolific over the years. They have produced several chicks over the years. Their chicks have gone on to other zoos with the hope of spreading their genetic diversity throughout the tragopan  population. This gorgeous pair occupies the first habitat near the entrance of the Bird Garden. – Frank Fisher, Bird Keeper

 


“A Royal Pair”

What’s in a name? Lots, when you’re named after an 18th-century British queen and the largest pigeon species. Victoria crowned pigeons have a feather crest that resembles a crown. And rumor has it that Queen Victoria was fond of the color blue.

Unlike Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s whirlwind romance, our Victoria crowned pigeon couple met through a zoo dating service. Last December, Dora arrived from Virginia to meet Ernie, who has called the Saint Louis Zoo home since May 2016. (Story behind their names: Queen Victoria’s half-sister, Feodora, married Prince Albert’s brother, Ernst. Thus, the nicknames of Dora and Ernie.)

Soon after Dora’s arrival, she was introduced to Ernie. Their visits were supervised at first to evaluate their compatibility. After just a few weeks together, obvious courtship behaviors began – tail bobbing, wing flapping and vocalizing.

Just recently, at the beginning of February, Dora and Ernie consummated their coupling. And nest building has begun in earnest. Time will tell if Feodora and Ernst emulate Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, who had nine offspring. Come visit our Victoria crowned pigeons in the Bird House. #ZooCouples - Melissa Miller, Bird Keeper

"A West Coast Boy Meets a Midwest Girl"

Ajabu, a male black rhino from San Diego Zoo Safari Park in California, and Kati Rain, a female black rhino from Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kansas, met for the first time and became a couple when they came to the Saint Louis Zoo in 2007. This meeting was no coincidence; they were recommended as a breeding pair by the Species Survival Plan for black rhinos. Kati Rain and Ajabu hit it off and on January 14, 2011, we celebrated the birth of Ruka, a male black rhino calf, born to these first-time parents. This couple has also celebrated the birth of a second male calf, Moyo, born on May 17, 2017. Kati Rain proved to be an exceptional mother to both Ruka and Moyo. Ajabu was not involved in the parenting, just like wild male rhinos. Come by and see these amazing rhinos and their juvenile calf, Moyo, in River’s Edge! #ZooCouples - Katie Pilgram-Kloppe, Zoological Manager of River’s Edge

“Mom and Dad”

The rhinoceros hornbill pair (I call them Mom and Dad for lack of more appropriate names) has been together since 2013. They have produced six chicks: Roman, Liam, Sawyer, Skyler, Quincy and Remi. The pair is very affectionate with one another and can often be seen sharing food while making soft vocalizations. During nesting, the female seals herself into a nest log for close to three months, relying solely on the male to bring food for her and the chicks. This couple is 100 percent dedicated to one another and are almost always seen together.#ZooCouples - Jenny James, Bird Keeper

“Not For A Lack of Trying” 

They might seem like the perfect couple — they are very well bonded and have the nest building, egg laying and egg incubation parts of their relationship down pat— but the outcome is not what we were hoping for. Boris and Natasha, our statuesque pair of cinereous vultures, have occupied their outdoor raptor habitat at the Bird House since 2009. Keepers have tried renovations of their home, including rearranging “furniture,” tidying up and even moving their nest site a few times, but year after year the results remain the same— infertile eggs. 

It is not unusual for some species of birds to experience infertility, not unlike humans, for various reasons. Reproductive specialists are assisting many species in the animal world in becoming successful when it comes to prolificacy. In addition to this, we also have the potential to swap eggs with other zoos and allow pairs to foster chicks that are not biologically theirs. Perhaps, one day, with some assistance or egg swapping, Boris and Natasha will become proud parents and hatch a chick that all the Zoo staff know they deserve so much. Stay tuned! #ZooCouples – Frank Fisher, Bird Keeper.

“New Guy in Town”

Utamu and Kijana are one the newest couples at Jungle of the Apes. Kijana is the new guy in town (as of summer 2018) and he and Utamu hit it off right away. Immediately drawn to each other, they have engaged in long grooming sessions and lots of play behavior that consisted of tickling and playing chase. She’s got a strong personality and he’s more submissive. Kijana, however, is a very vocal fella who has a lot of upbeat, positive feelings when it’s time to eat. He’s always willing to share his food with Utamu and often lets her get first dibs. They have differing personalities, but this seems to work well for them. They’re the “it” couple in this chimpanzee group! #ZooCouples - by Kim Emerson, Jungle of the Apes Keeper

“New Guy in Town”

Utamu and Kijana are one the newest couples at Jungle of the Apes. Kijana is the new guy in town (as of summer 2018) and he and Utamu hit it off right away. Immediately drawn to each other, they have engaged in long grooming sessions and lots of play behavior that consisted of tickling and playing chase. She’s got a strong personality and he’s more submissive. Kijana, however, is a very vocal fella who has a lot of upbeat, positive feelings when it’s time to eat. He’s always willing to share his food with Utamu and often lets her get first dibs. They have differing personalities, but this seems to work well for them. They’re the “it” couple in this chimpanzee group! #ZooCouples - by Kim Emerson, Jungle of the Apes Keeper

“Exiting the Friend Zone?”

Rubih and Cinta have been best friends since Cinta arrived at the Saint Louis Zoo in 2012. They are the same age and have grown up to be young adults together. They will build large nests near each other at night. Cinta often takes Rubih’s snacks, but she in turn has a habit of taking some of his sheets and bedding. The two will play, roll and wrestle all day long. They both love to sleep in and don’t like keepers disturbing them before 9 a.m. All of these things have made them the perfect orangutan match. #ZooCouples - by Kim Emerson, Jungle of the Apes Keeper


"Love Isn't Always Soft and Cuddly"

The Charles H. Hoessle Herpetarium is home to many species of reptiles and amphibians. Here is a spotlight on two of the many couples that call the Herpetarium home. Disclaimer – the animals had no interest in the Valentine’s Day candy and did not consume any.  #ZooCouples

The black-breasted leaf turtle (Geoemyda spengleri) is an endangered species from China and Vietnam. This species is sexually dimorphic, which means males and females look distinctly different. Adult males have white irises and a longer, thicker tail than that of the females. Females tend to have a more striped pattern on the head. A breeding group of these turtles can be seen in the Herpetarium. The Saint Louis Zoo manages the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan and studbook for this species and we have successfully hatched this species several times.

This pair of shingle-back skinks (Tiliqua rugose) live behind the scenes at the Herpetarium. They live together year-round. Unlike many other lizards that are egg layers, this species gives birth to live young that are approximately one-third of the female’s body weight. Shingle-back skinks are highly monogamous, seeking out the same partner year after year. Females typically produce two large babies a year but can have up to five! 

- Lauren Augustine, Curator of Herpetology
Photos: Justin Elden

"All You Need is Love"

Love in the invertebrate world is rare. For several invertebrates, the male may worry about becoming a meal for their mate. This isn’t the case for American burying beetles - they are true romantics!

We may consider giving candies and chocolate to be romantic, but for them, it’s a dead animal (carrion) about rat size that sets their hearts a flutter. American burying beetles can smell a dead animal shortly after death from miles away. If they are alone, they will call up their mate using a romantic pheromone, a sort of cologne or perfume, that says, “I have a treat for you, and I am ready to start a family.”

The pair will move the carcass to a better site to make their love nest. They do this by lying on their backs and passing it over to each other with their legs. They work together to bury the carcass and remove the larger bones, scales, feathers and so on. It is a remarkable sight when they bury a carcass by just removing the soil under the body, and it slowly disappears into the ground. They then work it into a ball, embalming it as they go. The pair works to form a cell around the carrion ball to make their special “love cell.”

When the eggs hatch, both parents will chew and regurgitate the carrion to their young. Yes ladies, the male feeds the young, too! He is a true romantic and helps his mate raise their offspring. They will continue feeding them until they are old enough to feed on the carrion ball themselves. It is very unusual in the invertebrate world for both parents to help raise their offspring.

So, do you say “can you feel the love tonight” over a piece of carrion? The American burying beetles can. One of the amazing couples in the invertebrate world! - Daniel Koch, Invertebrate Keeper

"Penguin Pairs"

Penguins are known for their “pair bonding,” and Penguin & Puffin Coast may just be the place with the most couples here at the Zoo. Click here to learn about our “love birds.”

"A Valentine Love Triangle”

Love is certainly in the air at the Children’s Zoo—most of it, sadly, unrequited. Staff hearts are also torn as we approach Valentine’s Day and watch this romantic drama unfold.  Check out the story here.