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Some animals have been paired at the zoo for many years, and are still going strong, having settled into an easy compatibility.
IT’S Valentine’s Day and love is in the air; the animals at the Johannesburg Zoo are no exception – some partnerships are even still going strong after several years.

The gibbonsMar and Gabby make a happy coupleThe spectacled bears, buff-cheeked gibbons and hippos are some of the animals that have found long-term love.

Introduced to each other seven years ago, Valentine, 18, and Tumu, 15, the spectacled bears, have never shown any sign of aggression towards each other, even when they met for the first time. “They both seemed very excited and were happy to be together,” says Razina Pandor, the zoo’s marketing assistant.

As an old couple, they depend on each other. Tumu makes up for Valentine’s lack of hearing and Valentine guides Tumu towards the treats in the enclosure, she explains. They are usually observed following and guiding each other in the enclosure by the keepers, who say they are faithfully supportive of each other.

“When zoo staff enters the enclosure, Tumu, the female, is the first to greet them and Valentine, the boyfriend, follows. The couple has been together for five years and their love for each other has not wavered,” says Pandor.

The story is more or less the same in the buff-cheeked gibbon enclosure, where Mar and Gabby make a happy couple. Mar, the male, was brought to the zoo in November 2009 and was introduced to Gabby in March 2010.

At first Mar was a bit curious about Gabby; after watching it eat for a while, it plucked up the courage to join in. That’s where it started and as they say, the rest is history.

The pair is usually seen playing together and sharing food. “On 10 May 2011, the pair became the proud parents of a bouncing baby buff-cheeked gibbon, and now enjoys joint responsibility for nurturing and raising their baby,” says Pando.

Pygmy hipposThe pygmy hippos have bred two calvesCrusty, 15, and Jellybean, 16, are another item at the zoo. The pigmy hippo couple was imported from Germany to the zoo in 1997. “They have always been together,” she says.

The two hippos have bred two calves, neither of which is at Joburg Zoo – one is at the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa, the Pretoria zoo; and the other is at the Lion and Rhino Park.

Crusty and Jellybean, who have been together for 15 years, are also grandparents to Phithlelelo, the young male calf that joined the zoo in August 2011 from the National Zoo’s conservation farm in Limpopo. Phithlelelo was born out of a breeding loan between the Joburg Zoo and the conservation farm, where its mother was sent for a breeding programme.

In the animal kingdom, monogamy is common. The aim is to protect vulnerable babies from predators. Certain animals such as swans, beavers, gibbon apes and black vultures will stay devotedly with one partner throughout their lives. For them love is eternal, explains Pandor.

To witness the love, visit the Joburg Zoo. It is open from Monday to Sunday, from 8.30am to 5.30pm. Entrance is R55 for adults and R34 per child or senior citizen.

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