Czarek Sokolowski/AP
Elephants play in the water at the Warsaw Zoo, Poland.

Ninio, Possible Gay Elephant at Polish Zoo, Is Shunned by Politician

April 14, 2009 01:00 PM
by Liz Colville
The young male elephant is the latest zoo animal to show signs of being gay. A high-ranking Polish politician has spoken out against Ninio's sexual preference.

Politician Grumbles Over Cost of Elephant House

Ninio is 10 years old, still relatively young for an African savannah elephant, which can live for about 55 to 60 years in captivity. But he has shown a preference for hanging around with other male elephants, called bulls, at his new home in the Poznan Zoo in western Poland.

Elephants reach their sexual maturity around 14, but Ninio's behavior has already come under fire from Michal Grzes, a member of Poland's opposition party, Law and Justice, who is concerned that Ninio might not reproduce.

“We didn't pay 37 million zlotys ($11 million) for the largest elephant house in Europe to have a gay elephant live there,” Grzes was quoted as saying by Reuters.

Ninio is not only uninterested in the female elephants, called cows, but actually “has had to change zoos three times in the past five years because of his aggressive behaviour toward female elephants,” according to The Daily Mail.

Ninio is only one of many zoo animals that have shown homosexual behavior in recent years, penguins being the most common and most discussed.

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Background: Famous gay penguins

A penguin couple at a zoo called Polar Land in Harbin, northern China, made headlines in December 2008 when they were sequestered from the other penguins by a picket fence. The couple had been taking eggs from heterosexual penguin couples and replacing them with stones.

The zookeepers explained that the penguins were removed not because of discrimination but “so as not to disturb the colony during hatching time,” The Daily Mail reported. After urging from zoo visitors, they were given the eggs of an “inexperienced young mother.”

Silo and Roy, a well-known gay penguin couple at New York City’s Central Park Zoo, also attempted to “incubate a rock” before being given their own egg, which they “successfully hatched and raised,” according to FOX News, which reported on the pair’s breakup in 2005. After their successful go at parenting, Silo took up with a female penguin, leaving Roy to sit “disconsolately at the edge of the penguin area, staring at the wall.”

Another gay penguin pair, Wendell and Cass, of the New York Aquarium in Coney Island, were a happy couple, undisturbed by females, until Cass passed away. A 2002 interview with their keeper, Stephanie Mitchell, in Salon, revealed more about one of the world’s first out gay penguin couples.

Mitchell explained, “Any biologist will tell you that the purpose in getting together is to create young. But I don’t know why [the female penguins] aren’t interested in Wendell or Cass.” Mitchell added that sex between the male penguins is exactly the same process as between a male and female penguin, just without the eggs.

Related Topics: Animal kingdom homosexuality; children’s book makes ALA’s “challenged” list

Elephants and penguins are not the only species of animal known to display homosexual behavior. As LiveScience reported in 2006, an exhibit at the University of Oslo’s Natural History Museum, “Against Nature?” explored the fact that “homosexuality has been observed in more than 1,500 species, and the phenomenon has been well-described for 500 of them,” according to exhibit coordinator Peter Bockman.

While some animal researchers dismiss homosexuality in the animal kingdom as unimportant, others see it as a fascinating phenomenon that can be explained by several factors, including group psychology, sexual pleasure and the idea that sexual orientation doesn’t exist in the animal kingdom at all.

The blog Queerty highlights several animals that have been known to exhibit homosexual behavior, including the hyena, the bonobo monkey and the dolphin, and mentions some of the science behind their behavior. In the case of hyenas, the female's sexual organ actually resembles the male organ and “the hyenas that fair the best in their matriarchal society are the ones that are exposed to the most testosterone, regardless of gender.”

Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell’s 2005 children’s book “And Tango Makes Three” is about a baby penguin with two dads that made the American Library Association’s “challenged” list, meaning there “has been a formal written request that ‘materials be removed because of content or appropriateness.’”

The Los Angeles Times blog Jacket Copy notes that other books on the “challenge” list include Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”

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