Pulse: Chatter: Romance: We Otter Do it

At the Zoo, getting it on isn’t left to chance

Think date-worthy singles are an endangered species? Imagine you’re a giant elephant shrew on the market for a mate — and you really are an endangered species. Cheer up! You’ve got a yenta: Philadelphia Zoo general curator Kim Lengel, keeper of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ giant elephant shrew master studbook.

“It’s very labor-intensive,” Lengel says of the nationwide recordkeeping, which she performs for the giant otter as well. “We don’t have genetic analyses of all these animals, but we know how they’re related, and can make recommendations to avoid inbreeding.”

Though software calculates the consanguinity, there’s more than numbers to a successful match. “There are what we call ‘demographic variables,’” Lengel explains. “A zoo may say, oh, she’s got great bloodlines, but she’s a terrible mom.” And because mating is almost always natural, rather than via artificial insemination, “You want animals who tend to get along.” See? Personality counts, just like your mother said.