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Love like an animal

Posted by: Kirsten Pisto, Communications

Watch out, Seattle: Cupid’s been hitting the mark on Phinney Ridge for over 100 years! This Valentine’s Day we've got the smitten kittens and the lovey dovies to inspire you...

Affectional bonding between animals is also known as pair bonding. Sociobiology circles use this term to differentiate from “love,” a very human term. Pair bonding is a strong affinity between animals that are lifelong mates, temporary partners or can just refer to strong teamwork. Animals have their own unique ways to bond and show affection.

Here is a look at some of the animal bonding pairs at the zoo and a thing or two you can learn from these animal sweethearts:

African dwarf crocodiles: Keep smiling

This toothy pair has been together since 1973! What’s the secret to their lasting relationship? Lots of crocodile smiles; sharing snacks (mice, rats, chicks and quail); and a love language all their own.  The male lets out a really low growl, typically with his throat submerged in the water, causing the water to vibrate vigorously while water droplets begin to dance on the surface. How romantic!

Photos by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

The pair has produced 14 babies since they came to Woodland Park Zoo as young adults and their surviving offspring have been sent to zoos as far away as South Africa.

Snow leopards: Take it slow…

Snow leopards are primarily solitary creatures. When male snow leopard Dhirin arrived last summer from Oklahoma, keepers weren’t sure how he and female Helen would get along. Dhirin was infatuated with Helen, but keepers told us that Helen wasn’t sure about the new guy. The cats could see and talk to each other in the behind-the-scenes area of their exhibit, but they weren’t introduced until Helen was ready. Dhirin kept track of Helen and tended to respond positively to her scent. Helen slowly adjusted to Dhirin’s presence and eventually she relaxed around him. When the time was right, Helen wanted nothing more than Dhirin and her days of snarling at him were put on hold. The lesson here… don’t rush it! Enjoy each other’s company and give your partner some space.

Dhirin, left and Helen, right. Photos by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo

Conservation ambassadors for their species, Dhirin and Helen represent a precious and endangered member of the cat family. We are crossing our fingers for a snow leopard litter in the future!

Gorillas: Stick together

If you are looking for a model of lasting union, look no further than our oldest gorillas, Pete and Nina. At 46 years old, the iconic pair is a foundation of the zoo’s gorilla program.

Nina and Pete. Photos by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo

You can learn a lot about a solid relationship from watching this wrinkled pair. The tiny, grandmotherly Nina is most content when she is curled up next to Pete. With his silver hair and balding head, Pete has stuck by Nina’s side for all her 46 years. Pete and Nina are very compassionate and patient with each other, willingly sharing food, watching out for one another and spending their golden years side by side. Nina still teases Pete by stealing his blanket or shaking her stick at him, but their sweet friendship is totally going strong.

Toucans: Don’t stop flirting

In the humid Tropical Rain Forest exhibit you will find two lovebirds: toucans, in fact. Lulu and Patrick spend their day flitting around to find fruit, chattering to each other and flirting up a storm. These two have a few ways of flirting. They like to dance around on their avocado tree, breaking off its top. They tear up leaves and break small twigs, and then they toss the pieces to their partner. It’s their way of flirting, but it drives the zoo gardeners mad! The toucan troublemakers know that a little mischief is a key ingredient in keeping a relationship exciting.

Photos by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo

Lulu and Patrick also feed each other fruit and insects, which might be a better behavior to emulate if you are trying to romance your partner, although we’ve never tried throwing small sticks at a potential date—could be charming!

Partula snails: Shoot arrows at your lover 
(not recommended for any species other than snails)

Prior to copulating, Partula snails actually shoot “love darts”—tiny bits of calcium-based material—like daggers into their partner. No one knows exactly why. Some think that this is the origin of Cupid with his arrows. Come on, snails—how are we going to top actual Cupid arrows?!

Photos by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo

Partula are extinct in the wild, but thanks to the Partula Species Survival Plan, plans are underway to reintroduce Partula nodosa back to Tahiti in the next couple of years.

Go wild: spend Valentine's Day at the zoo!
Bring your favorite human to the zoo for our Valentine’s Day Celebration on February 14! Animals will receive special enrichment such as heart-shaped ice pops, strawberries, herbal bouquets and of course heart-shaped steaks.


Unknown said…
Do the dwarf crocodiles have names?
There are no official names on the books for the dwarf croc pair.