Cincinnati Zoo uses matchmaking-like method to ‘hook up’ animals, director says

The zoo "carefully" decides which animals should "hook up," the director says.

ByJULIA JACOBO
August 10, 2017, 7:39 PM

— -- The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden is taking a modern approach to finding the perfect mate for the animals under its care.

The zookeepers have gotten matchmaking down to a science using a system that zoo director Thane Maynard described as an animal version of a popular dating site.

"It's carefully decided -- a little like Match.com -- who's going to hook up with whom," Maynard told ABC Cincinnati affiliate WCPO.

The breeding program -- the Species Survival Program -- is an international effort managing more than 450 different species, Maynard said.

PHOTO:A Malaysian tiger cub plays with resident nursery dog Blakely at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens, March 29, 2017, in Cincinnati.
A Malaysian tiger cub plays with resident nursery dog Blakely at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens, March 29, 2017, in Cincinnati. Three cubs were born on Feb. 3 to 3-year-old Cinta, a first-time mother, in the zoo's captive breeding program who rejected her offspring prompting zookeepers to intervene.
John Minchillo/AP Photo

As a result, the Cincinnati Zoo has experienced a recent baby boom, including rare animals such three baby ring-tailed lemurs, three critically endangered Malayan tiger cubs, a baby red panda and a baby black rhino, which is also critically endangered, Maynard said.

PHOTO: Dr. Jessye Wojtusik, a reproductive biologist with the Cincinnati Zoo, points to an ultrasound image produced from Bibi, a 17-year old pregnant Nile Hippo, left, at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017.
Dr. Jessye Wojtusik, a reproductive biologist with the Cincinnati Zoo, points to an ultrasound image produced from Bibi, a 17-year old pregnant Nile Hippo, left, at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017, in Cincinnati. Wojtusik led her team to discover Bibi was pregnant using ultrasound, producing the first ever image to diagnose pregnancy in a Nile Hippo. Hippos are notoriously difficult to train and immensely powerful. The team worked for months to condition Bibi to feed in a regular position that would allow for a weekly ultrasound procedure.
John Minchillo/AP Photo

One newborn has already stolen hearts at the zoo: Baby Fiona, a Nile hippopotamus who was born prematurely on Jan. 24.

"I think she's the most famous animal in the world," Maynard said.

PHOTO: A baby Nile hippopotamus named Fiona rests her chin on the rim of a tub in her enclosure at the zoo in Cincinnati, March 23, 2017.
A baby Nile hippopotamus named Fiona rests her chin on the rim of a tub in her enclosure at the zoo in Cincinnati, March 23, 2017. The zoo says the hippo, which weighed 29 pounds at birth and is the first Nile hippo born at the zoo in 75 years, is getting more independent and now tops 100 pounds (45.36 kilograms), meaning her days of napping on her human caretakers' laps are dwindling.
Angela Hatke/Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden via AP

Zookeepers must work hard to ensure compatibility between the animals chosen to mate, which can be an intricate process, said Cincinnati Zoo curator for primates Ron Evans. Some factors that are considered when matching animals include genetics, social needs, zoo interest, and the zoo's capacity to house additional animals, Evans said.

“We consider social dynamics of groups ... you don’t want to send any animal anywhere and not know how that animal might get along with the other animal,” Evans told WCPO.

PHOTO: Kamina, a baby Western Lowland gorilla, arrives in Cincinnati by private plane, Sept. 22, 2014.
Kamina, a baby Western Lowland gorilla, arrives in Cincinnati by private plane, Sept. 22, 2014.
Michelle Curley/Cincinnati Zoo/AP Photo

In addition, the program pays special attention to animals' family tree when choosing mates in an effort to promote genetic diversity, WCPO said.

Although some animals are on birth control to control the population, Maynard said the the "importance" of the complicated program "can't be overstated for zoos."

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