Creating Sustainable Zoo Populations Across The Continent
Time doesn’t stop for any species. One day you’re watching new arrivals, tiny chicks packing on the pounds or little monkeys chasing mom through the treetops. Then, before you know it, they’ve found mates and are starting the next rotation in the great circle of life.
In zoos, of course, the pairing process is an expert affair. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums Population Management Center, headquartered at Lincoln Park Zoo, works with hundreds of species—and zoos throughout North America—to ensure only the most suitable matches are made to sustain the genetic health of zoo populations.
But while every match is recommended, each pairing is unique. Here we look at a couple of the zoo’s mated pairs, exploring how courtship works across species.
Bobbing and Weaving
The lesser green broadbills (above) are easy to spot at the McCormick Bird House. Even among the rich foliage of their exhibit, their spectacular green plumage stands out, calling attention to this songbird native to Malaysia and Sumatra.
Of course, one member of the breeding pair is more likely—and more eager—to draw the eye. That would be the male, who can be distinguished by his iridescent feathers as well as black bands across the wings and a black dot behind the ear…all features intended to attract the attention of a prospective mate.
As far as breeding pairs go, the male and female broadbills at the Bird House are relative short timers. They just produced their first clutch of chicks last year, leaving Hope B. McCormick Curator of Birds Sunny Nelson impressed by the skills of the feathered first-time mom.
“We have high standards for the species, as we had a great breeding hen here who passed away in 2011,” the curator says. “it was nice to see the new mom take up that mantle.”
So how do you know if lesser green broadbills are ready to breed? Animal care staff keep a close eye on the pair. When the male starts bobbing his head and begins actively pursuing his mate, keepers know its time to add nesting material to the broadbill habitat.
Another Practiced Pair
The Helen Brach Primate House has its share of breeding pairs. White-cheeked gibbons Caruso and Burma, Francois’ langurs Pumpkin and Cartman and Allen’s swamp monkeys Ocala and Delasol have bonded and reared babies under the guidance of Species Survival Plans®.
But last fall saw the addition of a new breeding pair at the Primate House…well, new to the zoo anyway. Crowned lemurs Sokkwi and Tucker moved into the building’s south habitat. They were accompanied by sons Nuru and Azizi—proof of previous breeding success—and quickly reestablished a comfy group dynamic.
“The lemurs have a different social structure than other Primate House species,” says Curator of Primates Maureen Leahy. “They’re more seasonal breeders—and the female is the dominant one.” Breeding season runs roughly from October to January and marks a notable shift in group behaviors. Sokkwi, the male, spends a lot of time scent marking the exhibit and following Tucker around. Tucker, in turn, is more likely to claim the most desirable food or scoot Sokkwi out of a preferable resting location.
Females can become more aggressive during breeding season in some crowned lemur groups, which typically number five to six individuals. Fortunately, that wasn’t an issue at the zoo, although Leahy did report an uptick in vocalizations. “Meows, growls – everyone was making a lot more noise,” she said. Things have since quieted down, as another lemur baby was born just this April!
Other Potential Pairs
The crowned lemurs and lesser green broadbills aren’t the only prospective parents as spring turns to summer. The trumpeter swans should once again line the nest at the Hope B. McCormick Swan Pond. (Note: they did, and hatched four cygnets in June!) The red river hogs may nuzzle together at Regenstein African Journey. The sand cats may make another fierce match at Regenstein Small Mammal–Reptile House.
Nothing is certain, of course. While the matches are a science, the pairings are more an art, subject to each animal’s preferences. But in some cases, at least, we’ll see a new generation, starting the whole cycle over again.
By James Seidler • Published July 17, 2014 • Originally published in Spring 2014 Lincoln Park Zoo Magazine
Trumpeter Swan New Arrivals