An au naturale breeding program

The Secretary Bird is just one species slated for breeding in the new facility. Photo: Sergey Yeliseev/Flickr

The Secretary Bird is just one species slated for breeding in the new facility. Photo: Sergey Yeliseev/Flickr

Zoologists at the San Diego Zoo and the Audubon Nature Institute will be leaving love up to the birds and the bees.

The two organizations are coming together on a new breeding project. They’ll be using 1,000 protected acres on the Mississippi River just south of New Orleans to host about two dozen species, including lions, antelope, and several kinds of birds.

The open-environment grounds are supposed to facilitate more successful breeding. Typically, as with other breeding programs, researchers pair up individual animals and hope that their hormones do the rest. Depending on the species, this has limited success – pandas especially have a hard time breeding with this method. So biologists are now corralling the animals in a more natural space, allowing them to get together at their leisure. This will be vitally important in certain species that rely on social structures to trigger breeding. For example, Secretary Birds mate for life, with the female picking the male based on his courtship ritual of soaring high in the sky while emitting croak-like calls. Other animals need several males around to compete with each other during courtship, otherwise they won’t mate at all.

As for the facility, it will be equipped with the newest technology for genetic testing and research. It’s on high ground, and the organizations say they’ll be implementing safety measures to protect the animals should another devastating hurricane come ashore. The program is set to start next year.

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