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Toucans kept as couple at Japanese zoo for 8 years turn out to be both female

Toto the toco toucan, right bottom, who was initially believed to be a male, is seen with Poko, in this photo provided by the Sapporo Maruyama Zoo.

SAPPORO -- A toco toucan believed to be male, kept with a female in the Sapporo Maruyama Zoo's tropical bird section from 2013, is in fact also female.

    Toco toucans, known for their enormous, colorful beaks, are native to South America. The zoo in the Hokkaido capital's Chuo Ward bought the birds as a male and female pair from a domestic dealer.

    It is difficult to identify a toco toucan's gender by its appearance, but the "male" Toto had a comparatively large beak and body and displayed courtship behaviors towards the other bird, Poko, so zookeepers apparently never doubted Toto's sex.

    Zookeepers had confirmed eggs were being laid since 2016, but none of them hatched, and all were unfertilized. In 2020, a camera was set up inside the birds' nest. The number of eggs the staff counted in the nest indicated that they were being laid by two birds, not one. A subsequent DNA test revealed that both birds were female.

    The zoo has been putting efforts into improving the toucans' nest and nutrition, aiming to breed the birds. An official in charge commented, "We're exhausted." The zoo is searching for other facilities that could exchange one of the two birds for a male toco toucan.

    (Japanese original by Hiroaki Kishikawa, Hokkaido News Department)

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