Baby Bonobo Climbs, Plays at San Diego Zoo

PrintThe youngest member of the bonobo troop at the San Diego Zoo could be seen playing, climbing ropes and rolling in the grass on Friday morning, Aug. 28. The female, named Belle, is 20 months old and is one of four bonobos that arrived at the San Diego Zoo last month, from the Cincinnati Zoo. Bonobos live together in integrated family groups. Belle, her mother, older brother and sister integrated easily into the existing bonobo troop providing them the opportunity for the kind of social interaction they would have in the wild.

Bonobos are a very rare and critically endangered great ape species native only to the Democratic Republic of Congo, but the wild populations are being decimated at an alarming rate. They are very closely related to humans, sharing 98.4 percent of the same DNA. The San Diego Zoo is one of only a handful of zoological institutions in the United States that house and care for this rare species.

Bringing species back from the brink of extinction is the goal of San Diego Zoo Global. As a leader in conservation, the work of San Diego Zoo Global includes on-site wildlife conservation efforts (representing both plants and animals) at the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, as well as international field programs on six continents. The work of these entities is inspiring children through the San Diego Zoo Kids network, reaching out through the Internet and in children’s hospitals nationwide. The work of San Diego Zoo Global is made possible by the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy and is supported in part by the Foundation of San Diego Zoo Global.



9 Exotic Mating Rituals of the Animal Kingdom

Although the wild kingdom doesn’t have the same romantic love approach to reproduction that humans claim, animals follow countless mating rituals that we might not even be aware of. Let’s look at a few.

Peacock| 9 Exotic Mating Rituals of the Animal Kingdom

photo: Angie Bell

With their fancy feathers, it’s no surprise that birds take home the prize for most exotic courting routines. It was the peacock’s train that apparently inspired Darwin’s theory of sexual selection and the evolution of esthetic beauty. Male peacocks embody one of the most impressive courting displays of the avian world, and females are rather picky about their mates. In fact, the peacock’s female-attraction power is directly related to the perfection of a male’s spectacular train, including its overall length, the number of iridescent “eyes” that are present, and even the symmetry of their pattern.

Bowerbird | 9 Exotic Mating Rituals of the Animal Kingdom

Male bowerbirds are avian artists and spend anywhere from one week to a few months building the perfect little retreat for prospective females. These creative engineers decorate their bachelor pads with available resources, like seeds, berries, leaves, and other discarded items they can find. Many have a preferred color scheme and look for items to accommodate. Some species even use their beak or a piece of bark to paint their pad with an extra splash of color to attract a mate!

Hummingbird | 9 Exotic Mating Rituals of the Animal Kingdom

Shiny feathers on a male hummingbird are thought to indicate good health, so these birds use their brilliant plumage to their advantage. Some species will form a lek, consisting of up to 100 males looking for a match. If a female shows interests in one of the tiny suitors, he then performs a flying dance to win her over.

Impala | 9 Exotic Mating Rituals of the Animal Kingdom

A variety of horned mammals also exhibit unique performances during courtship. Male impalas, for instance, have a strange way of attracting females or warning off other males: they repeatedly stick their tongue out in a display known as tongue flashing.

Goat and sheep | 9 Exotic Mating Rituals of the Animal Kingdom

Size matters when it comes to the horns on a male goat or sheep. Head-butting clashes become more violent during breeding season, and the winner typically breeds with all the females in a flock or herd. So while fighting over females is frowned upon in human relationships, it’s go big or go home with the bachelor group for these hoofed mammals.

Hippo | 9 Exotic Mating Rituals of the Animal Kingdom

The dominant male in hippo society has the right to mate with all of his herd’s females, but gaining supremacy is a dirty job. Male hippos use their fan-shaped tails to fling their dung to attract a female and remind the herd of his territory.

Ring-tailed lemur| 9 Exotic Mating Rituals of the Animal Kingdom

While humans are concerned about smelling nice when attracting a potential mate, having a strong stench is a good thing for ring-tailed lemurs. During mating season, males compete for females through stink fights that involve smearing scent from glands onto their tail and jerking and swinging the tail to waft the sharp odor toward their opponent.

Elephant | 9 Exotic Mating Rituals of the Animal Kingdom

Chivalry isn’t dead in elephant society. Adult males usually don’t live with the main herd, but during breeding season, albeit short term, these emotive pachyderms spend anywhere from one hour to a few days courting a mate.

Bonobo | 9 Exotic Mating Rituals of the Animal Kingdom

In bonobo society, females take charge. Upon entering a new troop, females will breed with all the males and gain permanent membership only after giving birth. These highly intelligent primates have also been observed using sexual behaviors for social reasons other than reproduction, such as conflict resolution.

Do you have any animal mating rituals to add to our list? Share yours in the comments.


Jenn Beening is the social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, 14 Notable Safari Park Births of 2014.


9 Animals You Never Knew Existed

The precise number of animal species that exists on Earth, both past and present, is unknown. Following this logic, there’s a plethora of animals they didn’t teach you about in school. Sure, lions, tigers, and bears (oh my!) are cool, but if you’re looking to expand your knowledge of the Animal Kingdom or just want to stock up on fun #animalfacts, check out these nine exceptional creatures.


Before you mistakenly categorize this primate as a chimp, take a closer look. The bonobo is one of the most rare and intelligent primates in the world; they’re only found in a small part of the Democratic Republic of Congo and, among other things, their social structure is unique, complex, and largely peaceful.


The agouti (ah GOO tee) is a rain forest-dwelling rodent from Central and South America. Given its diet of fallen fruit and nuts, it’s no secret that the agouti loves forest leftovers, but its sharp incisors also play a vital role in the survival of Brazil nut trees (one of the largest in the Amazon). This rodent species is the only mammal that can crack open the indestructible outer shell of a Brazil nut, which is extremely valuable for the country’s remote people.


Madagascar is home to some incredible species, and the fossa is the “king” of them. Even though resembling a morphed cat-like dog, a fossa’s closest relative is the mongoose, but the misunderstandings don’t end there. Legends of fossas stealing babies from cribs, licking humans into a deep trance, and making their own pupils disappear are endless, but let’s be honest, we prefer facts over a lengthy list of myths.


Imagine a buttery box of theater-style popcorn, and you can almost smell this next exceptional species. Yes, the smell that usually signifies box-office entertainment is the same smell you’ll find emanating from a binturong, aka bear cat. However, that moniker is a bit misleading since binturongs aren’t related to bears or cats but instead have closer ties to fossas mentioned above.


There are only two types of egg-laying mammals in the world, and the echidna is one of them. If that’s not enough to spark your interest, this spiny anteater is also one of Earth’s oldest surviving species. While other animals have been busy evolving and adapting to fluctuating environments, the echidna has remained unchanged since prehistoric times.


Speaking of anteaters, the tamandua (aka lesser anteater) is another mammal you probably didn’t know existed. Its relative, the giant anteater, gets most of the attention, but the tamandua has its own way of making its presence known; it can spray a rotten-smelling secretion that’s said to be significantly more powerful than a skunk. Thus, its unforgettable nickname, “stinker of the forest,” is properly attributed.

Tree pangolin

The tree pangolin is a scaly anteater that looks like a pinecone with legs and a long tail. Its scales are made of keratin, like our hair and fingernails, which protect this “pinecone” from predators.


Sure, the tuatara appears to be an average lizard, but this reptile is truly unique. The tuatara is specific to New Zealand and its closest relatives are an extinct group of reptiles that lived during the time of the dinosaurs. It’s no wonder the tuatara is referred to as a “living fossil.”


Caecilians (pronounced seh-SILL-yens) live a mysterious life in a network of underground tunnels. There are over 120 species of caecilians on at least 4 continents, but almost nothing is known of this amphibian’s habits or lifestyle.

Can you think of any uncommon animals to add to this list? Share yours in the comments below.

*Jenn Beening is the social media specialist for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, Ken and Dixie’s Bite Club.


Primate Enrichment

A siamang and orangutan inspect a painted gourd that was filled with goodies.

What exactly is enrichment and how is it used in the San Diego Zoo’s overall animal care program? This is a question that is asked more frequently than in the past. The general definition of enrichment is to make fuller, more meaningful, or more rewarding. This has a direct correlation to enhancing the quality of life for the primates in our care. Enrichment at the Zoo is equal in value to the provision of food, water, and shelter. Keepers spend many hours figuring out ways to stimulate the animals in our care, both mentally and physically. One of the biggest challenges is providing the monkey or ape with something that is safe and indestructible!

Orangutans are known for their independent thinking capabilities. If there is a way to dismantle or destroy something, they will find it. But just this process is stimulating! Since orangutans are arboreal, we try to provide items that we can freely hang from the climbing structures inside their habitat, simulating the natural movement of branches. Large plastic disks, balls, and other objects can be stuffed with plant material or novel food items like cereal, sunflower seeds, hot sauce, and spices. These enrichment items are then secured to the climbing structure with hardware and rope. We have to be diligent about making sure the nuts and bolts are very tight, otherwise one of our more mischievous orangutans (I didn’t want to name names, but…Karen) will be dismantling the apparatus within moments!

Hammocks are always a favored piece of furniture for most primates. They use them as storage units, to lounge in, and play on. And, for the industrious species, unravel, unweave, and retie with their own unique knot-tying skills!

The black mangabeys, which can be found in the Zoo’s Lost Forest, are very adept at manipulating puzzle feeders that are provided for them inside their “bedrooms.” Opposable thumbs come in handy when attempting to pull raisins out of tiny holes on a board or moving peanuts through a maze mounted to their enclosure. Hanging mirrors are also a novel way to spy on your neighbors down the hall! I have seen monkeys hold the mirrors (with safety glass) and angle them just right to get a good look at me or one of their conspecifics in the next room!

Primates are problem solvers. They use this skill every day in their natural environments as well as in their habitats at the Zoo. With the help of the Zoo’s March Wish List, we can provide opportunities to encourage stimulation for exploration, foraging, problem solving, and the senses. Wish List items include paper streamers for the bonobos, flowering shrubs for our colobus monkeys, and mirrors for Francois’ langurs,

Kim Livingstone is a lead primate keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Gorilla Born at the San Diego Zoo.


Orangutans Inspire Visitors

I must say that Janey and Clyde, the orangutans, have been great conservation ambassadors during our daily keeper talks at the Absolutely Apes exhibit at the San Diego Zoo. Just under a year ago, I began to develop a conservation package that would some day becomepart of a pilot program for the rest of the great ape areas of the Zoo (see Juan’s blog, New Age Orangutan Conservation). Our conservation package includes materials and products that are made of sustainable and/or reused material; these were used as tools to show Zoo visitors options that we, as consumers, have for becoming more eco-friendly at home.

We also display a poster that illustrates an array of products, from cookies to cosmetics, containing palm oil as an ingredient. Deforestation for the production of palm oil plantations in Southeast Asia is the Number One threat orangutans face in the wild. With less than 65,000 Sumatran and Borneon orangutans left, it is critical that we help out by simply becoming more conscious consumers. With Janey, Clyde, and the rest of the orangutan family right on the other side of the glass during the presentations, guests walk away with an appreciation and respect for these complex creatures.

The San Diego Zoo will be celebrating Great Ape Awareness Days today through November 16, 2008. There will be six scheduled presentations daily at the orangutan, gorilla, and bonobo exhibits. Each presentation focuses on issues great apes face. Here’s the presentation schedule. We will see you there!

Juan Fernandez is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.