Why can’t we be friends?
We as humans are a social species. Our need for close connections with other humans is something that most, if not all, of us can understand. Yes, even you introverts out there! I am married to the epitome of an introvert and even she will admit to needing some human contact. The point is that we can all understand the process of getting to know someone to see if there is a connection, whether that be strictly platonic or romantic.
Many of the animals at Zoo Atlanta have to go through a similar process of getting to know one another before actually living together. I would like to share with you one relationship that is currently being developed. Before we start, it is important to note that the circumstance described is not the same for all animals at the Zoo or in the wild. Each individual animal/species/etc. has its own unique needs and requirements when it comes to social dynamics.
If you have been to the Zoo within the last year, you may have noticed the Bird Department was caring for two king vultures, each in separate habitats. One is a female named Roswell and the other is a male named Fred. When deciding to put two individuals together, we need to first look at what is typical for the species in the wild. King vultures sometimes live alone but typically live in small family groups. When finding a suitable romantic partner, they also mate for life. These facts initiated a need for us to explore the possibility of having the two live together.
Once we determined that it was in the best interest of their well-being to introduce the two, we began what are called “howdy” introductions. This was accomplished by housing the two birds in two separate habitats that share a mesh wall. The mesh wall allows the birds to see, smell, hear, and even interact in some ways with each other without actually having physical contact. During this time we are looking for positive signs that might indicate we could move forward. Some of those would be spending a lot time near each other by the mesh wall, or even performing behaviors simultaneously such as sunning. Examples such as these indicate that the birds have at least some degree of comfort around one another.
The next step would be allowing physical contact under supervision of their care team. Roswell and Fred began this step with shortened and completely supervised sessions of access to one another. If no negative interactions occurred, we would increase the time together each time. We would even allow them to have unsupervised time together for very short periods, with our team checking every so often.
Currently, Ros and Fred have progressed to the stage where they are allowed complete access to each other throughout the day and night. The one exception is during feeding time. We want to make sure there won’t be any food aggression from one bird to the other before moving forward. It is also important to note that we have cameras recording them throughout the day and night. This allows us to monitor their relationship non-stop and make adjustments as needed.
Hopefully, this has given you a look into what goes into an introduction with some of the animals at Zoo Atlanta. Again, not every animal or situation is the same. The concepts of knowing the animal, careful observations, and taking the appropriate steps forward can be applied to each animal or situation. Hopefully, Ros and Fred will be living together non-stop in the near future. There may be challenges and obstacles along the way, but our team will always do what is in the best interest of the birds.
Keeper II, Birds