SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Beau the bongo loves his mate Zahara.

“It was love at first sight,” lead keeper Amanda Klein said of the two bongos (antelopes) at the Great Plains Zoo. “He loves being around her.”

But there are some animal couples who are less loving when they aren’t breeding.

“These guys are more solitary by nature,” keeper Kalie Zahn said of the Pallas’s Cats.

If the male is outside, the female may be inside, Zahn said. “It’s not like they fight,” she said. They just don’t need to be together.

The Pallas’s cats Kaz and Salkhi at the Great Plains Zoo. GPZ photo

As Valentine’s Day approaches, people tend to think of relationships and love. Relationships between zoo animals can resemble people relationships between couples and even family structures.

While humans may meet through social dating apps or through friends, for example, the approach to dating or mating at the zoo is more deliberate and planned. Yet, chemistry between the animals can still count.

Mollye Nardi, the curator of the Great Plains Zoo, said the zoo follows the Species Survival Plan (SSP) when it comes to mating and breeding zoo animals.

“Before we do introduce the animals, we have an in-depth introduction plan,” Nardi said. The plan includes the possible signs the relationship may being going well or not going well, Nardi said.

Plans also include how to separate the animals smoothly if it’s not going well, she said.

Denise DePaolo, the director of public relations and engagement at Great Plains, said the zoo’s goal is to manage and care for animals as best possible rather than breed as many possible animals as possible.

Some animals may be on birth control while others are separated to prevent breeding, Nardi said.

And just like humans, when those animals are coupling or building relationships, they don’t all have the same approach.

Kisho is the snow monkey dad

Tama and Neesan are the breeding females, said lead keeper Joel Locke. Kisho is the breeding male.

Although Shinta can no longer breed, he is still the top male in the snow monkey troop.

“Kisho is the one who looks out for everybody,” Locke said. “He’s got a collection of kids and he does take care of them.”

A baby snow monkey in the summer of 2019 at the Great Plains Zoo. KELOLAND News photo

Shinta also has a role in the raising the kids. “He’s a good nanny. He will take the young ones and hold them…” Locke said.

The monkeys live in troops but they will pair up for breeding and in general, they will gather for comfort and socialization.

“When they groom each other, it’s a way of saying, ‘I really like you,'” Locke said. “They also cuddle, which is super cool. That let’s you know they are getting along. They have big cuddle sessions.”

On a recent morning at the zoo, a male and female were sitting on a rock. The male got up but the female mounted him as a way to say, “I don’t want you to go yet,” Locke said.

Quince and Pippa, lifelong couple

Penguins, “generally mate for life and they are monogamous,” lead keeper Kim Miller said.

Quince and Pippa are a long-term pair of Humboldt penguins at the zoo. They have had several offspring.

Pippa and Quince, a Humboldt penguin couple. GPZ photo.

Penguins “are very social birds,” Miller said.

One show of affection is the male coming behind the female and vibrating her wings. “That means, ‘Hey, I like you,'” Miller said.

Breeding starts with the male and female hunting for a nesting area.

“Both have to agree on it or it’s a no-go,” Miller said. Yet, “everything has to be approved by the female.”

“The female will help build the nest but will also throw things out…,” Miller said.

Zoo staff have seen a great nest built in a day only to see it dismantled the next morning because the female did not approve, Miller said.

The female typically lays two to three eggs. The father is involved in the process. Quince will sit on the eggs in the nest. He will also bring Pippa food. He also helps raise the birds after they are born.

Some couples are non-traditional. Two males or two females may pair up, Miller said. As an example, this can happen after the penguins stop breeding and the penguin still wants companionship, she said.

Oliver prefers a human companion.

“I call him my penguin husband,” Miller said. Oliver is 30 years old. The typical lifespan of a Humboldt penguin is 20 years.

Oliver’s mate has died. “He loves the attention of people,” Miller said.

What a feeling for the bongos

Beau the bongo arrived in Sioux Falls in 2017. Zahara had been at the zoo since 2015.

Klein said she had a feeling the male and female would do well together. Their personalities complement each other.

The bongo couple at the Great Plains Zoo. GPZ photo.

The two are separated this year to prevent breeding as part of the SSP at the zoo, Nardi said.

When they are together they may be “rubbing their sides together or rubbing horns,” Klein said.

Klein said Zahara will play “hard to get” and act aloof at first.

“I feel like she is looking back over her shoulder at him when she is running,” Nardi said.

The two are indoors in side-by-side pens this winter. One way they communicate is to knock their horns on the doors to the pens.

Red panda Valentines

The breeding season for red pandas starts around Valentine’s Day, said Zahn.

Roji and Oliver, the red panda couple at the Great Plains Zoo. Great Plains Zoo photo.

Breeding usually happens over several days, Zahn said.

Roji, the female panda, and Oliver, the male, didn’t have any success last year but that wasn’t for a lack of trying.

“We joke that these two have no shame,” Zahn said. The two pandas will breed in the middle of the exhibit in front of zoo attendees.

After the season of mating, the two pandas do get along. Even so, Roji is bit touchy about the top shelf in the exhibit where both can sleep and lie about.

Roji has slapped Oliver away from the shelf, Zahn said.

“It seems like Oliver has no cares in the world,” Zahn said.

A running rhino couple

When Imara and Jubba are together in the summer, there is often a lot of running and “chasing each other,” keeper Kirsten Kjorsvig said.

During breeding season, “we watch for signs of success,” Kjorsvig said. “The male will rest his chin…”

In general, the black rhinoceros is a solitary animal, Kjorsvig said.

They do use flehmen response, which is pushing up their lip and showing teeth for scent. And they kick their feces for other rhinos to smell.

The rhino couple at the Great Plains Zoo. GPZ photo.

Jubba, the male, “super playful” and a bit a of a “goofball,” Kjorsvig said.

The two animals have three offspring. Two are at different zoos. One of them is likely to be bred at a zoo in Oregon, so Jubba and Imara could be grandparents in the near future.

The couple’s third offspring is in Sioux Falls.

Imara and Jubba won’t be breeding this year. The zoo’s exhibit is set for three rhinos. “We don’t want to breed to have a fourth,” Kjorsvig said.

The squirrel monkey family

The squirrel monkey partners of Daphne and Ned recently had a newborn.

Daphne will carry the baby on her back for several weeks but Ned is involved in raising the newborn, DePaolo said.

The baby squirrel monkey born at the Great Plains Zoo.
The baby squirrel monkey born at the Great Plains Zoo. GPZ photo.

Ned has just had surgery and on one recent day, the monkey family couldn’t be seen through the exhibit window.

They were in the back, enjoying family time, DePaolo said.