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Lake Superior Zoo offers fifth "adults only" Valentine's Day tour

Helen's Valentine's Day evening got off to a good start. She had one of her favorite foods for dinner and got to eat it in the peace and quiet of a private room.

Helen's Valentine's Day evening got off to a good start. She had one of her favorite foods for dinner and got to eat it in the peace and quiet of a private room.

Things took a turn for the worse, however, when her partner, Otto, arrived on the scene. He ate some of Helen's hamburger, chased her around their abode, then bit the back of her neck and dragged her into their indoor pool.

But that's romance when you're a North American river otter.

Otto and Helen's courtship ritual -- the two eat separately so they don't take each other's food, and romping around is foreplay -- was part of Thursday's "adults-only" Valentine's Day tour of the Lake Superior Zoo.

Sixteen couples snuck a peek into the bedrooms of several zoo animals and learned about animal behavior at the event, which was in its fifth year.

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"It's pretty popular," said zoo marketing director Anita Alberding. "We've got a lot of returning people."

This year's crowd was the largest the event has attracted. Leslie Larsen, the zoo's education director and the organizer of the event, jokingly suggested it was because the advertising for the tour included the word "sex."

"What that says about you folks, I don't know," she told participants before the tour began.

The first stop on the tour was Dolly the Llama's pen. Because llamas "greet" each other by smelling their breath, Dolly says hello to humans by almost kissing them.

Among people Dolly puckered up for were Jeff Wilson and Liz Auchter of Duluth.

"It was excellent," Wilson said of his kiss. "I didn't notice her breath at all."

After visiting Otto and Helen, the tour swung by the polar bear pen, which has been home only to Berlin, an 18-year-old female, since the death of her companion, Bubba, this summer.

Heidi Faris, an educational program coordinator with the zoo, said Berlin probably wasn't feeling blue Thursday.

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"I think at first she was [lonely] because she was used to [Bubba], but polar bears are solitary animals," Faris said. "She's doing really well."

Wilson and Auchter said they chose the adults-only zoo tour because it was something unique to do for Valentine's Day.

"It seemed like something different to do," Wilson said.

"We both love animals," Auchter said.

Janet Rogers and Jay Talarico have gone on the Valentine's Day tour for four years in a row.

"We've always loved the zoo. It's nice to go behind the scenes and see what you don't get to see in the display areas," Rogers said. "I'll keep coming every year, as long as they have it."

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