Can We Call Animals Gay? How About This Otter Couple?

Daz and Chip, gay otters

Two male New Zealand otters who spent 15 affectionate years together at the Natureland Zoo died within an hour of each other this week. The treatment of their story is exactly what The New York Times Magazine story “Can Animals Be Gay?” out tomorrow is about. Biologists are realizing that many animal pairings are same-sex but the debate over whether to consider the animals gay has become more political than scientific.

The Times writer Jon Mooallen whimsically describes it this way:  “It may seem surprising that scientists sometimes don’t know the true sexes of the animals they spend their careers studying — that they can be tripped up in some ‘Tootsie’ -like farce for so long.”

With Asian otters Daz and Chip, everyone knew they were male and bonded. The circumstances of their death just solidified their coupledom. When an animal pair dies so closely–like my dog Jolly did after he lost his girlfriend Shadow–how can you not acknowledge their complex emotional life? “The bottom line is that when one of them had a heart attack, it just set the other one off and he followed through,” a zoo spokesman told the New Zealand Herald.

The Times story mainly follows albatrosses, who have a lot of two-mommy households, but the phenomena spans the animal kingdom. A two-mommy, one-daddy family of another albatross species in New Zealand’s Taiaroa Head got lots of attention because of the gay-friendly tourist board, Mooallen says.

So back to our New Zealand gay otters.

Daz, 19, and Chip, 16, are described by their caretaker “busy, growly, bitey,” but noticeably not gay in the New Zealand Herald. There were part of the zoo’s captive breeding program, but the zoo is mum on their contribution. Presumably they made some contribution–willing or not–or they wouldn’t have been kept in it for 15 years.

The Daily Mail describes the pair as “best friends [that] lived side-by-side for 15 years.”

A local New Zealand station calls them “best friends” that were “always together,” but also uses the gay couple codeword “longtime companion.”

Everyone does assume Daz and Chip were a gay couple. Their story was memorialized in The Advocate and spread through twitterdom that way.

It is touching to see that these major media outlets now running an animal love story. I’m so tired of hearing people accuse themselves and others of anthropomorphism. What would be the opposite? Rockpomorphism? Treepromorphism? Why is it okay to presume that animals have no emotions or intent? We’ve gotten to the point at least where we accept what the handlers saw: one otter died after its “longtime companion.” Now can we accept that it was its mate?


Where to go to see animals near you–gay or straight

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