Love. It’s never easy, is it?
You either fall for a guy and your mother disapproves, or she’s playing matchmaker and her pick, well, he’s …
“It seems he has bad breath.”
That’s not good.
“They’ve tried him with four females, and none of the other females like him. [It’s] because of his breath, they think.”
Carol Sodaro, a husbandry advisor for the Species Survival Plan and a primatologist at the Brookfield Zoo, spun a familiar tale of the lucky and not-so-lucky in love.
She was, however, talking about orangutans.
The heavily monitored matchmaking that occurs at Brookfield and other accredited zoos around the country aims to do what lovelorn orangutans don’t always do themselves-pick a mate with good genes. Genetic diversity is crucial for orangutans’ survival, even in captivity, but it may not be the first thing on their minds when the love bug bites.
“They’re similar to humans,” Sodaro said. “They have their personalities and likes and dislikes because they’re highly complex, intelligent, social individuals.”
Those likes and dislikes are just as fickle as our own. Attraction is a hard nut to crack, and sometimes zookeepers have to step in.
“We have a female at Brookfield named Maggie, and she doesn’t like what we call cheek-padded males,” said Sodaro of the males’ pronounced facial structure. “She doesn’t really like the big boys.”
Apparently, Maggie is into sensitive guys. Scratch that. She’s into sensitive, younger, guys.
“We brought in a young boy, basically,” said Sodaro. “She really took to him, and, you know, did well with him.”
Husbandry specialists try to match a good genetic mix with compatible personalities. Orangutans have the longest birth interval of all mammals, which means they can wait up to nine years between mating. This span, which makes them particularly vulnerable and rare in the wild, makes them especially valuable as a learning tool in captivity.
Since orangutans do not mate often, it’s important to zookeepers that they mate appropriately. No one wants a female who is finally in the mood for love to squander the opportunity. This is where a little family planning comes in, either with contraceptive implants, Depo-Provera shots or even that good, old-fashioned standby-the pill.
“They don’t actually recommend pills because [the females] are known to hide pills when the zookeeper walks away,” Sodaro mused. “The orangutan pops a pill out of her mouth and guess what! They’re pregnant.”
Try explaining that one to mom.