By Lauren Hansen
Just like humans, animals sometimes need a little romantic help in the "bedroom." For endangered, captive animals, the pressure to perform is even greater as mating is the only way to save species from extinction. So what's a sexually apprehensive creature to do? Leave it to industrious zoo keepers to come up with some wildly romantic gestures—from the sweet sounds of a classical pianist to the alluring scent of fragrant herbs—to help make the magic happen. In honor of Valentine's Day, here are seven potentially inspiring stories (ahem), of animals trying to get it on.
1. French pianist plays live
A pair of Galapagos tortoises at the London Zoo were treated to the ethereal tunes of French pianist Richard Clayderman on Feb. 7. The musician serenaded them with songs from his latest album Romantique, as well as classics like his stirring "Ballade pour Adeline" and a rousing rendition of "Chariots of Fire." While the intimate event was mostly an admitted plug for his new work, the endangered animals do desperately need to get it on and the zoo was willing to try anything. Unfortunately, the romantic music was, by all accounts, lost on the reptiles, who only appeared interested when offered carrots by a keeper.
2. Creating a private love nest
The pressure was on earlier this month for giant pandas Yang Guang and Tian Tian when the female, Tian Tian, had but a 36-hour window of optimal fertility. To encourage the process, keepers at the Edinburgh Zoo opened a "love tunnel" between their separate enclosures and also turned off the Panda Cam to ensure they had their privacy. While the pair showed encouraging signs of intimacy, including a spirited wrestling match, they have yet to mate. Officials say they would like for the UK's only pandas to do it naturally, but if necessary, they can use an extended bamboo pole to lift up Tian Tian's tail. Talk about a mood killer.
3. A cuddle surrogate
Cheetahs, being such stunningly fast animals, are fiercely independent, which doesn't help them in the metaphorical sack. Adding to the pressure, female cheetahs don't go into heat, but rather have to be brought into estrus by a male cheetah. Those living in zoos and wildlife parks are often particularly skittish and ill-suited for mating because they are likely to have been abandoned by their mothers or just fail to relate well to other cheetahs. How do zoos warm the loins of the frigid kitties? With dogs, naturally. Several zoos around the country have begun using "companion dogs" to serve as playmates for young cheetahs to provide the cats with socializing guidance. The cats and dogs are introduced at three months old and grow up together, the dog being the dominant figure in the relationship. The hope is that over time the cheetahs will relax around their brethren and, one day, welcome male cheetahs with open paws.
4. Speed dating
If you feel limited by your current dating pool, why not spread your wings and look elsewhere? That's exactly the mindset of those in charge of the Ecuadorian Amazon parrots at the UK's Chester Zoo. To encourage the rare bird species to mate, the zoo sends its lot of birds out to wildlife parks and zoos throughout Europe to meet potential mates. Once the potential suitors are located, the parrots are given time to get to know and evaluate each other, the way humans do in speed dating. If a pair is compatible, they are sent off to live together at a zoo where they are more likely to breed successfully. Body language is key to identifying a compatible pair. If the birds are sitting on opposite ends of the cage, they are not "clicking." If they are preening each other or even squabble like an old married couple, they're likely a good fit. But what, you might ask, of the Lady Edith Crawleys of the group — the birds left standing at the altar without a mate? Fear not, just because the parrots don't find compatible birds in one location doesn't mean their breeding partner isn't out there somewhere. The parrots continue to be passed along in the hopes of finding their one-true feathered friend.
5. 'Sexercise' and 'panda porn'
The people at the Chengdu Panda Breeding and Research Center in Southwest China are panda whisperers when it comes to mating tactics. As the country's wild panda population — now just under 1,600 — continues to dwindle, it has become more and more imperative that the animals mate. And so, the center's maternity ward has become a veritable petri dish of experimental romantic gestures. Some pandas partake in "sexercising," an activity in which the giant animal is tempted by an apple dangling on a pole. The hanging treat forces the panda up onto its hind legs and, as the apple bobs up and down, the panda exercises its pelvic floor muscles and reportedly improves its stamina. Meanwhile, for the timid pandas that are afraid to engage suitors, zoo keepers have two experienced pandas mate in front of the shy creature to encourage it to do the same. Others will be subject to "panda porn," to teach captive pandas how to do what they would normally have learned in the wild.
6. The sweet sounds of Marvin Gaye
After witnessing a two-decade drought of successful hatchlings, the keepers of the Chilean flamingos at the UK's Drusillas Park decided to give the long-legged pink birds a little tender encouragement. To conjure up that loving feeling, the staff played a mix of songs that have been successful in the human baby-making department, including tunes from Barry White and Marvin Gaye, along with a selection of love songs that might be particularly arousing for the birds themselves, including Manfred Mann's "Pretty Flamingo" and Bette Midler's "Wind Beneath My Wings." Keepers combined these love classics with recordings of the flamingos' bird calls and found subtle improvements. "They appear to be spending more time at the nest sites and taking a greater interest in each other." Proof, perhaps, that Marvin's sexual healing crosses species.
7. An alluring fragrance
Prince is a bit of a late bloomer when it comes to romance. The 25-year-old two-toed sloth that lives at the London Zoo has been introduced to a few mates but none have piqued the little guy's interest. To be fair, a lass named Sheila turned out to be a male, but sloths are particularly secretive and notoriously difficult to pair for mating. Since playful Marilyn, who is "most definitely a lady," was introduced into Prince's habitat, the keepers have been cautiously optimistic. To encourage a clandestine meeting of the potential mates, staff members leave trails of fragrant herbs for Prince to seek out in his rainforest-style enclosure and, perhaps one day, the search will lead him into Marilyn's arms.
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