Love is in the air- or not- at the zoo. At our zoo, we’re really hoping that Molly, our Amur tiger, will get it on with Vahzhno, her visiting suitor. In general, tigers breed readily in captivity. Still, it’s a complex business. Long before it becomes an affair of the heart- or hormones- the AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) is busy matchmaking around various parameters. Amur Tigers (formerly Siberian) are in extremely short supply in the wild so they are a part of the Species Survival Plan and which zoo gets a breeding plan is determined by numerous factors. The curators and keepers who manage the tiger stud book for the AZA (think of them as the technical cupids) consider genetic value, relatedness, age, location and personality. Genetic value and relatedness is fairly easy to determine in today’s world of tiger DNA data banks (this is why tigers are reluctant to engage in criminal activity), health is constantly monitored, and location is a given (transporting tigers can be a tricky business). But, you know, when it comes to personality who’s to say which tiger is going to tickle another’s fancy?
For some months now, it seems as though Molly has wanted nothing to do with Vahzhno. In the wild, it’s doubtful he’d get within 100 miles of her. But he’s the chosen match and we’re waiting with high hopes for her to, as the song goes, love the one she’s with. There are some things we know about Ms Molly. She’s big, strong and feisty. She’s also 2 years older than Vahzhno, who is sadly lacking in certain experiences. The keepers have been putting them together intermittently but now, in desperation, they are being put together all of their daytime hours in the large outdoor exhibit space. We take turns doing tiger watch; often there’s also a keeper with a fire extinguisher nearby (in case things go from smoldering to a three alarm fire.)
Today was a typical gray Midwestern winter day. The sky is a flat, opaque shade of blah and the air is cold and damp. Mostly, I’m just eager to fly south and begin my winter activities. The earth boxes and garden are calling, the manatee are at the bayou wall, and my body is screaming for outdoor yoga. Still. I had a blast at the zoo today and the high point was observing Molly and Vahzhno. The cold weather had the beavers moving aspen logs, the otters streaking about, the red wolves howling, the Snowy Owl preening, the kestrel hunting his dead mouse- and Molly and Vahzhno were engaged in a charming display of courtship behavior. They share a large “hot rock” near an exhibit picture window and they were both lolling about on it for four or five hours. It was an intricate dance of come hither and let me swat you on the nose. Molly was doing that “cat in heat” sort of rolling, charming, reaching out, licking, nuzzling routine and Vahzhno appeared to be keenly aroused (I observed this personally) until there was nothing left to do but…smack, roar and retreat. Those two.
Anyway, I would be very happy to come back to Chicago in the Spring to tiger cubs. That would be delightful. Zoo births are always cause for excitement (except the hissing cockroaches. Who cares, if you know what I mean…) but tiger cubs would just be the cat’s pajamas. Here’s a great video clip of Molly and Vahzhno in action. Er, inaction.
And here’s Molly, before the weather turned really cold, expressing her sentiments about this whole matchmaking business.