By JAMIE WELHAM
Doomed from the start: After months trying to get anteaters Erica (pictured) and Ernesto to mate, zookeepers at Marwell Wildlife in Winchester finally realised the reason the pair weren't hitting it off - she was actually a he
Sometimes it takes a little time to make a relationship work.
At least that’s what zookeepers in Hampshire thought as they spent 18 months trying to ignite a little passion between lonely giant anteater Ernesto and Erica, a mate shipped in from Germany especially to keep him company.
Despite their best efforts, however, the pair seemed to experience feelings of naked aggression rather than affection.
But if the keepers were frustrated by their failure, that must have been nothing compared to the frustration being felt by poor Ernesto.
For he was only too well aware of something his human handlers hadn’t realised . . . that Erica was in fact an Eric.
The extraordinary blunder came about because anteaters have small and well-concealed sexual organs, making it difficult to distinguish males from females.
Zookeepers at Marwell Wildlife near Winchester discovered their error after anaesthetising the German animal and examining it under a microscope.
Ant-enatal: Ernesto is enjoying the company of his new, genuinely female, mate Inti, with the pitter-patter of tiny paws now a distinct possibility
John Pullen, curator of mammals, said: ‘We wanted to be part of a breeding programme because Ernesto is one of the most popular attractions at the zoo and giant anteater numbers are low.
'We found a female mate for Ernesto at a zoo in Germany and brought her over.
‘When Erica arrived, we spent some time mixing them so that they could get used to each other. They were a little aggressive to each other but that isn’t unusual at first.
‘But it transpired that something was wrong. They became very aggressive and just didn’t get along. We got Erica out to have a closer look and it turned out she was a he.
‘Anteaters can be quite dangerous. They have really sharp claws, so we didn’t take the decision to do something like that lightly.’
Tender moment: Seven-year-old Ernesto touches snouts with his new beau
Sunday, November 13, 2011
It's aardvark telling them apart! Ernesto the lovelorn anteater gets a German wife called Erica to start a family - only for zoo to discover 18 months
By JAMIE WELHAM