A dashing male sheep and a comely deer are being likened to Romeo and Juliet, but their forbidden love story takes place in a Chinese zoo, not Verona. Changmao, or Long Hair, the ram and Chunzi the doe met and fell in love at a wildlife park in southwest China last year, but it was this week that their love story made news, after handlers unsuccessfully attempted to separate the interspecies pair. Here, a brief guide to their "unconventional" romance:
So, how did they get together?
Long Hair and Chunzi first felt the spark a year ago. They share a pen about the size of a basketball court with five other deer and two sheep. Chunzi was intrigued by Long Hair from a young age. The feeling was mutual. "Chunzi is the prettiest deer among the six," says zoo keeper Liu Gencheng. "She was chased by other bucks. But Chunzi loves playing with Long Hair the most. The two have spent a lot of time together since they were little."
Then what happened?
Love blossomed. Over the past year, Liu repeatedly witnessed the two mating. "I've seen that many times," says Liu. "I know they usually do it in the morning." But it was only a couple weeks ago that a zoo veterinarian witnessed their passion for the first time. Dr. Liu Lingxiang was shocked. "My colleagues and I have never seen sex between two different species of animals," he says. "This is hard to believe." The unusual pairing attracted national media attention and spawned a micro blog about their relationship on the zoo's website. But not everyone believed they should be together.
What was the public's reaction?
Many gave Chunzi and Long Hair their blessing. "When I first learned the news, I thought this might be a joke," says Cai Yue, an animal lover living in Beijing who follows the affair online. "But when I saw these photos, the love in their eyes touched my heart." Others, especially animal experts, were less supportive. "Sex between different species of animals is not natural," says Long Yongcheng with Nature Conservancy, a group based in the U.S.
Did the two have any relations with their own species?
Yes. Last weekend, a baby lamb was born to Long Hair and the zoo's only female sheep. With the new arrival, the zoo manager decided that Chunzi and Long Hair should be separated, and that the ram should form a traditional relationship with his baby and its mother. "The baby sheep needs care from both parents," the manager said. "Since the sheep and the deer are not able to have kids, we decided to separate them."
How did the separation go?
Not well. When handlers tried to separate the two last Friday, it played out "like a dramatic scene from a love story." Chunzi tried to lick Long Hair through the fence, while Long Hair tried to harm his baby and the female sheep with his horns. "It scared us," says Li Li, a zoo staff member. After just a couple hours of the drama, the zoo relented and reunited the star-crossed animals. "We won't do anything to separate them," Li says. "They will be together."