Zoos are weirdly influenced by the concept of a nuclear family. People want to see one mother, one father, and a couple of kids, regardless of the species and their mating habits. Zoos still tend to keep one male and one female lion together, despite what we all know happens in the wild, where one adult male can have a whole harem. It's just easier to tell little Susie that they are mommy and daddy lions, rather than open the discussion up to alternate sexualities.
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Although I'm sure a few of the Utah zoo-goers are down with a little lion polygamy.
But even if your captive animals live well together in their artificially enforced familial units, you can't exactly have them mating whenever they want. Zoos only have so much space; hence, there's animal birth control. When I was an undergrad, I assisted a researcher who was looking at subdermal birth control for Japanese macaques. Some primates know there's something off about their implants, so they rip them out, and if you don't notice, you get surprised with monkey babies, which, for the record, is one of the worst surprise gifts this side of hepatitis.
At least hep C can't fling its poop at you.
Birth control is a lot easier with birds because you can just remove the egg, but zoo professionals have a sort of unspoken policy if an egg is beyond a certain age, because pulling it is the equivalent of late-term abortion. This extends even to eliminating feral pest pigeons: If we couldn't be absolutely sure the egg wasn't more than four days old, we couldn't destroy it. They were pests. The zoo knew it needed them gone, and yet there was still this nagging moral quandary about it.
The whole birth control thing is nearly as much of a clusterfuck in zoos as it is in people. You've probably heard about the Copenhagen zoo that euthanized a giraffe. Well, that all happened because they don't believe in animal birth control due to health concerns and the (understandable) idea that denying animals sex is cruel and unnatural. So they did what they thought was best in order to let their zoo animals live something much closer to a normal life ... they just had to be willing to ignore the crowds of protesters and step into the ring with one of the most contentious social issues in history to do it.
Animal love triangles are slightly less sexy than those in Twilight (only slightly, though). We had one female Asian starling that was obsessed with a male; the only problem was that he already had a mate. He'd ignore her season after season and produce offspring with his current partner until, for one season, he decided to shack up with both females. It was going great for a while, just livin' the old Three's Company dream, but whenever an egg would hatch two or three days later, the chick would disappear. For a while we thought it was one of the larger birds raiding the nest. Then we realized the mistress female was taking the babies (even her own) out of the nest and feeding them to the other birds. Not killing them herself, just dropping them off in front of the larger birds' grounds, baiting them to commit her crimes. If they ever make a movie out of this compelling drama, I sure hope Glenn Close is comfortable playing a bird.
"I AM NOT GOING TO BE IGNORED!"
The soap opera dynamic was everywhere: We had fruit doves that would take turns sitting and feeding, but at some point during incubation the male would forget his partner and suddenly attack her. Boom: evil mate and amnesia -- two soap opera cliche birds with one stone. When the eggs did hatch, the show got dark ... sweeps week dark.
The way our cages were set up, the breeding stall for the parents had access to the outside aviary. One of the doves' young daughters couldn't make direct contact with Daddy, but she could see him all the time, and eventually she fell in love with him. The flirting got so bad that Daddy stopped sitting on his next brood of eggs so he could watch his own child's sexy fan dance. Mom wasn't innocent in all this, either: She was infatuated with an imperial pigeon who weighed 10 times as much as her. She would often flirt with the pigeon when not locked in with her mate. The whole family was one well-timed sex tape away from having their own reality show on E!
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