Thursday, August 26, 2010

Something Tells Me It's All Happening at the Zoo

I had just started my walk through the zoo yesterday morning, having paused for a while to admire (and photograph) the butterflies on a butterfly bush, when I heard a strange sound: a somewhat resonant, but very low, sort of groan. I looked around: I was near the frog pond, across from the Reptile House and the alligator pond, and for a while I thought it could be the alligator making some kind of restrained bellow. But the alligator wasn’t out.

The groan continued. Could it be an ape? After all, the gibbons had produced sounds I had not believed could come from a living organism. But no; the orangutans weren’t out, and it seemed too far away for the noise to be carried from the gorillas, even supposing they would make such a sound.

I kept walking, past the entrance to the Reptile House, and—there: in the outdoor tortoise enclosure, the mystery was solved. Two of the immensely large Aldabra tortoises were mating. The male, on top, would every now and then lift his hind legs off of the ground, and the groans—or perhaps moans—were in time with this movement.

I admit, though I’m a little embarrassed, that I was profoundly shocked. Even after having read Gerald Durrell’s excellent book, My Family and Other Animals, which includes a passage describing the sex lives of (smaller) Greek tortoises, I just…didn’t expect this. Insects mating, of course. Birds and mammals—well, sure. Mollusks—not when I needed them to for my dissertation, but otherwise, yes. But somehow I had not anticipated sex among these enormous, ancient-looking creatures—and I’m not being ageist: I mean they look like prehistoric creatures, not old ones. (Well, they look old, too, but that wasn’t the problem.)

That and the moaning. That was something else.

But of course, even in the midst of my minor trauma, I took some pictures:

[an image of the action]


[a close-up; the much smaller female
is just visible]


[the leg-lifts that accompanied the sound]

4 comments:

pattinase (abbott) said...

We saw this once at the Detroit zoo with our very young kids. I remember one of them saying, "Daddy make them stop!" Their cries were alarming even if they moved slowly.

Anca said...

Shouldn't you start giving these posts ratings? :)

Olivia V. Ambrogio said...

Well, I don't know... I wouldn't say this even merits an "R," really. Perhaps a PG-13? But given that one of the post labels for today's entry is "sex," surely that's a sufficient rating in itself. :)

Anca said...

Ha! There you go, with your liberal stuff again:)! I'm sick of tortoise grunts and irresponsible sexual behavior! These animals better learn to be decorous, like Sarah Palin and her kin!

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