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Night Crawler 

Wednesday, Feb 10 1999
It Is All Happening at the Zoo
Since the glory of Roman Lupercalia -- when young adults coupled for fertility rites by drawing names from a large urn, and young women honored the rutting goat-god Pan by stripping naked and submitting to a goat-tail thrashing -- the second week of February has been earmarked for shameless displays of passion. Sure, it might sound boring (especially if it were left up to that limp cassock St. Valentine, whose only claims to fame were that he married Christians in secret, and that Claudius II had him beaten and beheaded). But it needn't be. Human beings have an astonishing aptitude for sexual inventiveness and refinement. In fact, if you start at the beginning of Brenda Love's Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices and work methodically toward Z, you may never have to perform the same sex act twice within your lifetime:

Actirasty is arousal caused by exposure to sunlight.
Acrotomophilia is a penchant for amputees.
Coitus a Cheval entails having sex on the back of an animal.

Emetophilia is arousal from vomit (not to be confused with a Roman Shower, which is vomiting on a partner after drinking urine or wine).

Hirsutuphilia is your standard European pit hair fetish.
Insufflation involves blowing into someone's body cavities.
Nasolingus is nose sucking.
Oculolinctus is eyeball licking, but everybody knows that.
Pygmalionism causes orgasm by rubbing against statues or mannequins.
Sounding is the insertion of an object into the urethra.
Zelophilia makes jealousy very stimulating.

Of course, all love is not created equal in the eyes of the law: In Harrisburg, Penn., it is illegal to have sex with a truck driver in a toll booth; in Connorsville, Wis., it is illegal for a man to discharge his firearm when his partner reaches orgasm; in Clinton, Okla., it is not illegal to have sex in a car, but it is illegal to masturbate while watching; in Washington, D.C., it is illegal to have sex in any position except face-to-face; and in all states of the union, it is illegal to fornicate with a corpse (sorry, kids).

Even worse, sexual discrimination has been extended to the animal kingdom: In Fairbanks, Alaska, it is illegal for moose to have sex on the sidewalk; in Kingsville, Texas, it is illegal for pigs to do it on airport property; and in Ventura County, Calif., dogs and cats must have a permit to copulate.

Despite sturdy legislation, animals and humans have continued to unite as their natures dictate. And like humans, for many animals and most birds nature prefers the second week in February. The Romans knew this when they celebrated Lupercalia. And Jane Tollini, the penguin keeper at the San Francisco Zoo, knew this when she played recordings of Johnny Mathis for her birds 10 years ago, during the first ever Valentine's Day Sex Tour. The erotic appeal of these tours is such that the San Francisco Zoo offers two full weekends of bestial discourse for those wishing to get a jump on the wicked game of love.

It is a gray, rainy, miserable afternoon -- the sort for which San Francisco was once famous. Twosomes gather at the South Gate, huddling under a sagging canopy while a cheerful white-haired woman in a plastic rain hat passes out big heart stickers. Sporadic gusts of wind threaten to blow away a basket of complimentary Hershey's chocolate kisses, and the rain occasionally falls west to east, making umbrellas somewhat silly. Still, the tour group remains good-humored, even joking as they make the drenching trip from the South Gate to the zoo train.

"It takes more than a little rain to turn a real San Franciscan away from sex and romance," explains a 62-year-old architect with an arm thrown protectively around his shivering wife. "It'll probably be sunny next week, but you know what they say about the early bird ...."

People board the zebra-striped train in pairs like Noah's wards escaping the flood. The seats are soggy, but the roof, working in conjunction with umbrellas, helps deflect unruly raindrops. Joe Fitting, director of the zoo's Animal Resource Center, settles in behind the mike and announces the tour's subject: sex.

"I find it difficult to say 'penis' more than once or twice a day," says family-man Fitting, "so I'm going to say Mr. Pickle."

Whether this is an improvement or not is a matter of some discussion before Fitting suggests some similar ways humans and animals woo one another: clothes, perfume, and food.

Real-life suggestions prove more interesting.
Thirty-four-year-old Roseanne Wolf seduced Michael Morris with dinner, alcohol, and a massage -- the last being a frequent enticement used by the rattlesnake. Gene Samas offered his wife of 23 years a warm dry place to sleep in his trailer after she graduated from law school, and he often gives her jewelry in appreciation of her continuing presence -- much like the male penguin, which will clean out a nest for his lifelong mate and bring her shiny stones as gifts. Thirty-year-old Bill Albertson seduced his kinky paramour, Pamela Fillin, with a handmade cat's claw, and because they both enjoy a touch of S/M, their love life reflects that of black rhinos, who have been known to beat each other senseless during foreplay.

As the train rolls through the deserted zoo grounds, Fitting's voice draws animals out of their man-built bungalows. They seem curious to see who would be out in such inclement weather. We huddle under garbage bags and slickers, and peer back through the drizzle while Fitting explains each species' courtship.

Most birds are all flash and not much action. They can spend up to a month in foreplay, flapping and preening, but the act is no more than a quick cloacal kiss. Fitting's words on the river otter are "rigorous, prolonged, and repeated." (They have the advantage of bones in their "pickles.") The African elephant has skeletal muscles in its "pickle" and has been known to slap zookeepers in the face with it. The sight of a male giraffe with its standard 18-inch tongue will cause an interested female to pee herself. The zebra has an "amazing pickle," the largest of all in relation to body weight. The polar bear has the smallest. (These white bears, by the way, are generally very grumpy.) The ostrich has a "pseudo-pickle," or a phallus, which, Fitting suggests, is a big, ugly, flabby, mushy-looking thing that the male waves around seductively. For those who believe in reincarnation, Fitting suggests coming back as a male African lion, which can have sex up to 50 times a day when he's not sleeping or eating meat provided by the females. Fitting does not suggest coming back as a female sea lion, which spends its entire adult life pregnant. Of all the nonhuman animals, only the bonobo, or pygmy chimp, has sex for pleasure, rather than reproduction. In bonobo society, siblings have sex as play, parents comfort their offspring with sex, males greet each other with sex, and females create bonds with sex.

Theirs is known to be one of the most nonviolent communities in nature.
When the rain finally forces the zoo tour into the aviary, champagne, truffles, and hot tea are waiting. The sodden group settles into 80-degree tropics where birdsong fills the rubber trees, and zoo volunteers present a sleepy possum, a 6-foot boa constrictor, a shy hedgehog, a comical toad, and an imprinted hawk that believes he's human.

Fitting gives us some final amatory tidbits about amphibians, reptiles, and invertebrates: Some marine invertebrates have no reproductive orifices. The male punctures the female, fertilizes the eggs, and when the eggs hatch the female explodes.

Stick with the bonobo.

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By Silke Tudor

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Silke Tudor


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