ISSUE While it’s easy for animals in the wild to find their partners, it’s not always the case with those in captivity. That’s why the Central Zoo Authority is keen to start a website to facilitate matchmaking

Bishmar and Anu migrated from Delhi six years ago, settled in western Chennai and decided to raise a family. Their daughters Akanksha and Namrutha grew up to be stunning beauties. Where would they find their mates? Well-wishers thought looking for grooms outside their family would be a good idea. Inbreeding within the small population of zoo tigers results in the birth of weak cubs with little immunity against diseases. Right, Akanksha and Namrutha are white tigers at the Vandalur Zoo. Have you met them?

So zoo authorities have put Vijay, a Royal Bengal tiger, Akanksha and Namrutha into a remote enclosure. The first generation cubs from this trio will be Royal Bengal tigers and there is a possibility the second generation cubs will be all-white, officials said. This will enhance the gene-pool quality.

But suitable alliances are not always found easily. “All zoos have issues like animal surplus, finding a mate and pairing them,” said Dr. R Thirumurugan, Veterinary Assistant Surgeon, Vandalur Zoo. One of the guidelines drawn by the Central Zoo Authority in India states: “Zoos shall co-operate in pooling such animals into genetically, demographically and socially viable groups at zoos identified for the purpose.” Infusing new blood into the zoo population is necessary, he said, to prevent the adverse effects of inbreeding and to ensure longevity.

In the wild, animals find their own partners. For animals in captivity, matchmaking has to be done by zoo “elders”. So zoos have exchange programmes. Zoo-keepers send and receive surplus lists. Looking for a bride? Groom? Please apply. Correspondence between matchmakers kicks off, and a copy is sent to the CZA through proper channels for permission to proceed. Paperwork follows, terms are agreed upon, and the bride/groom starts on the baraat.

Technology is making this matchmaking glamorous. Zoos across the globe are entering information into an online matchmaking database that keeps track of sex, age, weight and personality traits of adult animals. The information helps match pairs for producing cubs, calves or pups. In an example, officials at the Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, SC, said they hoped the online studbook would help their koala, Killarney, find a guy she doesn’t hit or ignore. “She’s a difficult lady, but there must be some guy who can handle her, right?” they wrote.

Taronga Zoo, open since October 7, 1916 in Sydney, Australia and winner of several tourism awards, has an active online dating programme for its lonely hearts. “Computer-dating and matchmaking!” announces the zoo website. “...odds are you know a dating/married couple who met online. But did you know that zoos have a network too for matching their animals?”

Conservation cupids

They claim that 600 zoos worldwide maintain an international database with histories of two million animals. Vets play conservation cupids, use data to manage breeding programmes for endangered species, assess potential matches to predict genetic diversity of the offspring. The greatest benefit obviously is that decisions can be made before animals are moved from one zoo to another. “Moving animals to meet their potential dates is a complex logistical and administrative exercise, not to mention the preparation and care by keepers to ensure the animals are ready to travel,” said Senior Curator Erna. “For example, at Taronga, we brought Sumatran Tigers from Europe and sent giraffes to New Zealand.” A dating site will certainly make the work more efficient, agreed Dr. Thirumurugan. Information like age and pedigree of an animal can be displayed with photographs (Taronga Zoo does). He would like the zoos in India to network and start a dating site. “We have excellent zoos like the ones in Mysore, Tirupathi, Delhi, Alipore, Nandankanan and Junagadh. Once the site is up, all the zoos in the country can access information and start the matching process. It allows you to check, even travel to monitor and observe the animal before making the pairing decisions. Matching will become easier.”