Celebrating Valentine's Day with Animal Amore at Elmwood Park Zoo

Elmwood Park Zoo director William Konstant with Sally, a cockatoo.
Elmwood Park Zoo director William Konstant with Sally, a cockatoo.
Posted: February 10, 2011

It's the mating call that can be heard from sea to shining sea.

When a male whale is looking for love, he lets out an underwater bellow that is the oceanic equivalent of a dozen roses and a box of chocolates.

If the call strikes the right note, female whales make like contestants on The Bachelor, scrambling for a rose.

"There are a lot of parallels between human love and behavior in the animal kingdom," said William Konstant, director of the Elmwood Park Zoo in Norristown.

On Saturday, Konstant will talk whale love and other creature romance in a special Valentine's Day celebration called Animal Amore.

The event is a five-course dinner, champagne, slide presentation, and meet-and-greet with animals including chinchillas Machu and Picchu, all in the zoo's new Canopy Gardens Pavilion.

Konstant's slide show, the evening's centerpiece, will offer guests a primer on animal attraction. He'll talk dating, mating, and commitment - or the lack thereof. The animal kingdom has its share of one-night stands.

"We've got lots of images. It's basically Animal Reproduction 101," Konstant said, but it will be "tastefully done."

The new $600,000 pavilion - funded by donations, mostly from the Allerton Foundation in West Conshohocken - has a fireplace and large windows that look out on gardens and exhibits. Officials hope that rental fees from winter visitors will help stabilize the operating budget of the financially strapped zoo, which was threatened with closure this winter before securing $360,000 in donations.

Animal Amore is an update of a presentation Konstant began several years ago when he was conservation director at the Houston Zoo. On Saturday, he said, he will leave it up to the party guests to decide whether animals actually fall in love.

But James Serpell, director of the University of Pennsylvania's Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society, said it is love or something like it.

Prairie voles, mouselike rodents, are like married couples, said Serpell, of Penn's School of Veterinary Medicine. They stay together for life, rear their babies, and jointly contribute to parenting.

Parrots groom and feed each other in a kind of intimacy that is about more than sex. "If one of their partners is killed, the surviving one goes into a decline," Serpell said. "They socially isolate themselves, stop feeding, and lose weight."

Deer and African antelope are the animal kingdom's single moms. They do the child-rearing after the male has taken a powder.

But there are some females who should not be crossed.

A male spider may feed a fly - or some other aphrodisiac - to the female before doing the deed. "While she's busy eating, they have sex because he's so small compared to the female, he might end up being dinner," Konstant said.

Some animals in relationships display homosexual behavior, Serpell said, including parrots, fish, and dolphins. If a parrot loses a wife and cannot find a female, he may pair up with a male until a female becomes available.

There are also transgender members of the animal kingdom, such as coral reef fish that can begin life as females and end it as males.

On Saturday, guests at Animal Amore not only will get an overview of animal love connections but also can take a multiple-choice quiz that pits the men against the women. The questions may be something like: Which animal's single act of lovemaking can last for days?

"This is an opportunity for us to look at ourselves as a species and compare ourselves to the animal world," Konstant said. "In some cases, there are similarities. In other cases, we are amazed at the stamina of animals."

More Information

Animal Amore will be held 6:30 to 9 p.m. Saturday at the Elmwood Park Zoo, 1661 Harding Blvd., Norristown. The cost is $50 a person. For information and reservations, call 484-250-2272 or e-mail info@zonescatering.com. Reservations will be taken through Thursday.

Contact staff writer Kristin E. Holmes at 610-313-8211 or kholmes@phillynews.com.

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