If there were such a thing, these two lovebirds would lead the Legacy Couples float at the Pelican Pride Parade.
Pepe and Enrique have been a monogamous male couple for an estimated 20 years they’ve lived at Pelican Harbor Seabird Station on the 79th Street Causeway in Miami.
They reside with eight other pelicans (four male, four female) in a large outdoor aviary for permanent “ambassador” residents, according to station communications director Hannah McDougall.
“There are plenty of female pelicans in there if they wanted, or so chose, to pair up with a female — but every year they always choose each other,” McDougall said.
“Pelicans are what we call ‘seasonally monogamous.’ They don’t mate for life. So when it becomes time to nest — nesting season — one of the rituals that pelicans have in order to choose their mate is they will pick a stick up to present to their mate [or their hopeful mate] and the mate will look at it to kind of determine, ‘OK, yeah, I like you.’ Then they'll do this thing where they extend their necks, and they kind of bow their heads while making a little noise, and open their wings a little bit like a courtship.
“It’s a very specific courtship dance, I guess you could call it. Pepe and Enrique do that just the same as all the other couples: Present each other with sticks, and do their little mating dance. And when they choose each other — as they have for two decades — then they will go ahead and they'll build their nest together.”
McDougall said “well over 400 species in the wild have been documented to have same-sex relationships or copulation.”
“Not necessarily mating for life or for the season, but same-sex copulation also has been recorded all over the place,” she said.
Pepe and Enrique, both brown pelicans, definitely “interact sexually,” McDougall said.
“The ‘mating procedure’ that they do is a very quick mounting. It’s not like a dog or anything. We call it a cloacal kiss [a pushing together of their genital openings]. All of their sex organs are internal. They only have one hole for pee, poop, eggs, everything else.”
Pelican Harbor was founded 42 years ago and now treats more than 2,000 animals annually.
“We treat opossums and squirrels, as well,” McDougall said. “I would say we average throughout the year we average a hundred animals in care at a time. During what we call baby season that number can climb to close to 150.”
About 75% of all animals treated at Pelican Harbor are released back to the wild. If they are unable to heal, feed or perch themselves, they must be “humanely euthanized,” she said.
Pelicans can live 25 years in the wild; even longer in captivity. Pepe and Enrique met at Pelican Harbor after separately arriving at about 3 years old, each suffering from wing injuries and unable to fly. Some animals, including the pelican couple, mostly recovered from their injuries but still can’t be released. They’re the ones that stay on as ambassadors.
Pelican Harbor Executive Director Christopher Boykin said, “With all the patients that we treat, seeing Pepe and Enrique together over these last 20-something years just reinforces and validates love.”
Through the years, Pepe and Enrique have even had the chance to exhibit their parenting skills. They’ve taken turns incubating a fake egg and both helped care for fluffy baby pelicans rescued from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
It’s all personal to Boykin, who co-parented two now-grown children with their moms and his husband of nearly 30 years, Equality Florida co-founder and Deputy Director Stratton Pollitzer.
Pepe and Enrique provide “representation and validation,” Boykin said.
“As a child I was taught that being gay was wrong. Some religions still [teach] misinformation,” he said. “As a self-actualized adult, I know full well that my being gay is a beautiful and wonderful thing, and a gift to the world. And seeing Pepe and Enrique, validates and just warms my heart. It’s the truth and it’s the truth of science. It’s the truth of life.”
Christopher Boykin. Courtesy of Steve Rothaus.
Boykin said “there are hundreds, if not thousands of documentations of same-sex relationships from all the marine mammals, all the mammals, all the primates, most of the birds. It just keeps going and going and going.”
LGBT humans “are not alone,” said Boykin, who reveals that artist Henry Cole, who illustrated the 2005 children’s book “And Tango Makes Three,” about two male penguins at Central Park Zoo that raised a baby, has already begun sketches for a new book about the love affair of Pepe and Enrique.
“With Pepe and Enrique, they’ve never strayed from each other. They're always together. Even in the non-breeding season they're always together. They’re best friends. They’re companions. They’re life partners,” Boykin said. “It’s part of life. It’s part of our family. It’s part of nature. And it's part of the fabric of humanity, to have same-sex pairings in the animal kingdom and in our world.”
To ‘Adopt’ Pepe & Enrique
Pelican Harbor Seabird Station offers an “Adopt Today” service for anyone who wants to contribute in honor of Pepe & Enrique. Cost: $300.
You’ll receive an 8” x 10” photograph of the birds, a copy of their story, a certificate of adoption, an invitation to see them at Pelican Harbor (1279 NE 79th St., Miami) and a tax-exempt donation receipt letter.
For more information, call 305-751-9840.
Journalist Steve Rothaus covered LGBTQ issues for 22 years at the Miami Herald. @SteveRothaus on Twitter.