Hot monkey love: Animal mating habits showcased for Valentine's

    Male crowned cranes, named for a yellow tuft of feathers on their heads, spread their wings, croak and dance around the females before mating. Some rhinos hang out for two to four weeks before mating, swimming and napping together. Sometimes a female rhino in estrus presents herself, swollen backside first, to the males, swaying and turning to let them know she’s ready. One morning at the Wild Animal Park, animal keepers noticed muddy footprints and drool stains on the back of one of the ovulating females. She’s had a busy night. At the San Diego Zoo, keepers noticed a female koala pacing around her bedroom, as female koalas do when they’re in estrus. The keepers let her out into the hallway leading to the other rooms, and she marched down the hall and sat down to wait outside of a male koala’s bedroom door.

    Animals court and mate with much success at the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Wild Animal Park. The Wild Animal Park opened in the 1970s with the purpose of providing a breeding facility for endangered species. The San Diego Zoo opened in the 1920s as a home for the exotic species left in town from the 1916 World’s Fair. The San Diego Zoo houses the largest collection of koalas outside of Australia, and over 90 koalas have been born at the zoo. To date, successes at the Wild Animal Park include 90 southern white rhinos, 80 giraffe births and 40 Indian rhino births. Hoof stock breeding at the zoo is so successful that many heifers and female gazelles are on birth control.

    After the young are born, and during pregnancy, no male koalas, rhinos or giraffes stick around to help their mates. Many species of birds demonstrate less typical male behavior: The male ostrich sits on the eggs for short periods of time while the female ostrich looks for food. The male hornbill gathers food for the female while she roosts. Male rhinos and giraffes leave the females alone during pregnancy, smelling the “”unavailable”” pheromones.

    Female rhinos, like female humans, have an estrus cycle that lasts 28 to 32 days. Three days a month, female rhinos are fertile and available for mating. If the male rhinos are around and sniff the females, they’ll take the opportunity. Female pandas go into estrus for two or three days a year, so male pandas have to be alert. Shi Shi, the San Diego Zoo’s male panda, was not. A wound on his nose obscured his sense of smell, and he could not catch a whiff of the two females’ pheromones when they were in estrus. Shi Shi returned to the wilds of China two moths ago. Another male from the wild in China, Gao Gao, arrived shortly thereafter to meet the females’ needs. He is now waiting in quarantine for a month until the keepers are sure he can acclimate to his new home at the San Diego Zoo. Gao Gao is nine years old and his sense of smell is intact. Zoo keepers hope that the adolescent panda can act when estrus strikes.

    When estrus strikes a female koala, she paces on the ground, bellows and stops eating for a few days. Some females seek out male koalas by the scent the males leave on trees. Each male marks his home perch with his own scent, returning to sleep in that same tree each night. Koalas do their mating in the trees. The female holds tightly to the tree, and the male holds on to her, pulling her fur and biting her neck. The deed takes 30 seconds. The male relaxes afterwards, and the female pulls away. Sometimes the male attacks the female as she retreats, chasing and biting her. Keepers at the zoo pull the koala couple apart if they start to fight.

    A baby koala is born 29 to 35 days later, without hind legs. The joey scrambles into the mother’s pouch to develop for up to six months. Upon emerging from the pouch, the joey is responsible for clinging to its mother while she climbs trees and eats.

    Female pandas guard their young with more maternal vigor. A female panda stays with her young for days at a time after giving birth, forfeiting food for herself and nursing her cubs.

    Researchers observe and record the behaviors of the giant pandas from various vantage points in their enclosure at the San Diego Zoo. The koala keepers see the koalas up close in their bedrooms, behind the exhibit, where the bears sleep for 20 hours a day. At the Wild Animal Park, the space is much more open. Keepers observe the animals from various vantage points around the park. Amani Point, not open to the public, which looks out over the plains of North, South and East Africa, offers a simultaneous view of three distinct parts of the park. A flatbed truck takes guests on the Night Moves tour to Amani Point to see the animals at sunset. The sun sets on the San Pasqual Valley, and the animals become active in the cool evening air. The animals don’t mind the time of day when it comes to mating, but the lower temperatures of the night inspire amorous behavior. A lot of mating happens over night, and the keepers find clues in the morning.

    The Night Moves tour, offered for Valentine’s Day and again in June, July and August, showcases the Wild Animal Park’s breeding facility for 21 and over guests only. The February tour starts at 3 p.m. and lasts until 6 p.m., after dusk. The Night Moves tour is the last to leave the park on the winter nights. In the summer, the tour lasts from 6:30 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. Liqueurs, coffee and dessert are served after dusk, during a talk with a guest speaker about animal courtship and breeding. On the ride back to the heart of the park, couples snuggle closer, relaxed and inspired after three hours out in nature in the back of a pick-up truck.

    More to Discover
    Donate to The UCSD Guardian
    $200
    $500
    Contributed
    Our Goal

    Your donation will support the student journalists at University of California, San Diego. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment, keep printing our papers, and cover our annual website hosting costs.

    Donate to The UCSD Guardian
    $200
    $500
    Contributed
    Our Goal