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ABCS OF BIRDS, BEASTS ANIMAL ATTRACTION THE FOCUS OF L.A. ZOO TOUR.

Byline: Donna Huffaker Staff Writer

Nothing like a tour of amorous primates to get your heart pumping for Valentine's Day.

Celebrating sweethearts' day a bit early at the Los Angeles Zoo, guides led groups of adults past the zoo's friskiest animals and breeding couples who have stayed together the longest, like chimpanzees Toto and Bonnie, a romantic pair since 1962.

Perhaps the busiest mammal is Kito, a male giraffe who has sired 19 offspring - some who live at the L.A. Zoo and others who live in various zoos around the country.

``Basically Kito's job is to make baby giraffes for the zoo. And he's really enthusiastic about that job,'' said docent Pam Wright.

Wright described the courtship between giraffes as ``sweet and elegant'' and explained that the male and the female dance around each other, he follows her and lovingly rubs her neck. The female keeps the male at bay for a while, though, Wright explained. ``When she's ready - boom, they mate,'' she said.

As for condors, of which both the male and the female weigh roughly 25 pounds, there is also a somewhat lengthy courtships where they flutter their feathers, bow and ``display to each other,'' she said. Then, he jumps on her back and the act of love is over in a matter of seconds, she said.

``The only reason the zookeepers even know when it happens is they see footprints on her back,'' she said.

As Wright explained the mating habits of animals on her tour, two docents at separate times walked up to her and announced an ostrich and a ground horn bill had flirted with them.

``I just got hit on by a horn bill,'' said Linda Countryman, a docent of 32 years, who described the bird fluttering its wings at her as a way of showing love. The ostrich, who acted amorously to another docent who had taken a morning walk, threw its head back by its shoulders and walked back and forth ``like it was doing the funky chicken,'' the docent said.

Lions can mate up to 60 times a day, Wright said, laughing and pointing out they do sleep an awful lot. As for gorillas, a male needs two females ``just to get into the mood,'' she said.

While the tour and Saturday's Prime Mate Party, complete with General Curator Michael Dee's animal mating slides collected over 30 years, was geared toward adults, children got their faces painted Saturday afternoon and learned the size of various mammals' hearts.

Standing behind a 25-pound box of cat box litter, docent Geri Gutentag told children to try to hoist the heavy box, as it is the exact weight of a giraffe's heart. A human's heart, by comparison, weighs roughly 12 ounces and was represented by a bag of heart-shaped candies.

A Volkswagen Beetle represented the size of a blue whale's heart.

Zoo employees had drawn a blue whale on the sidewalk, but heavy afternoon rains washed away the chalk outline.

``This is the best way for children to really see and feel what they're learning,'' Gutentag said.

CAPTION(S):

3 photos

Photo: (1) Robert Hoffman recoils at a description of the mating ritual of a double-whattled cassowary Saturday at the Los Angeles Zoo. The zoo's Prime Mate Party tour for adults was part of a pre-Valentine's Day surprise for his wife, Sylvia.

(2) Three flamingos mirror each other as they strike a pose in a pool of water Saturday during a tour at the Los Angeles Zoo.

(3) A lone chimpanzee breaks with the Valentine's Day theme Saturday at the zoo.

Eric Grigorian/Special to the Daily News
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Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 11, 2001
Words:604
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