01 03/01/2017

Critter count: Chester Zoo begins annual animal census

Keepers at Chester Zoo are starting the New Year with their annual head count of every animal at the zoo, which is home to over 500 different species.

Primate keeper Chris Yarwood attracts the interest of the ring-tailed lemurs at Chester Zoo's annual animal count
Primate keeper Chris Yarwood attracts the interest of two ring-tailed lemurs at Chester Zoo’s annual animal count

Thousands of animals, many of them threatened with extinction, are included in the compulsory census which is legally required as part of the zoo’s operating license.

Teams are faced with the formidable task of noting down the vital details of every individual mammal, reptile, amphibian, fish, bird and invertebrate in their care with the data used to help plan breeding programmes for endangered species ranging from tiny tarantulas to Asian elephants.

This year, some of the world’s most vulnerable animals are involved in the zoo’s stocktake for the very first time, including Palawan binturongs, the first Javan green magpies to hatch in the UK and a rare Rothschild’s giraffe calf born on Boxing Day.

Records coordinator Liz Ball is responsible for compiling the information from the count. She said:

Zoo records are regularly updated to take into account any births, deaths, departures and arrivals - with every animal having its very own 'passport' detailing exactly who it is, where it was born and who its ancestors are. It’s all carefully designed to ensure the best possible management of vital worldwide conservation-breeding programmes for the many endangered species we work with.

At the start of every year though, it's all hands on deck as keepers help double check the data with a full head-count. It’s a process which all zoos must go through by law in order to comply with the Zoo Licensing Act 1981.

A whopping 20,827 animals were recorded during our last count but we expect to top that number this time around. New species, such as the Palawan binturong, have arrived in recent months and last year was also huge for us in terms of breeding successes. This really is going to be our biggest counting challenge ever!

Among the new faces are four incredibly rare Javan green magpie chicks, a species which is critically endangered in the wild, a rare Asian elephant called Indali and male Rothschild’s giraffe calf Murchison who was born on Boxing Day. It’s fantastic to be able to add all of these important newborns to the count.

Palawan binturong, a nocturnal animal which is listed as endangered in the wild, is a new species being added to the annual animal count at Chester Zoo
The rare Palawan binturong, a nocturnal animal which is listed as vulnerable to extinction in the wild, is a new species being added to the annual animal count at Chester Zoo. The zoo’s new male and female are the first of their kind to ever live at the zoo.
Male red panda Jung gets involved with the annual animal count at Chester Zoo
Male red panda Jung gets involved with the annual animal count at Chester Zoo.
Javan green magpie - Chester Zoo
Javan green magpie chicks, the first to hatch in the UK are a critically endangered species being included in the count at Chester Zoo for the first time.
Tarantulas are added to the count at Chester Zoo
Tarantulas are added to the count.
Giraffe calf at Chester Zoo
Giraffe calf Murchison joins the count after being born on Boxing Day.
Chameleon - Chester Zoo
Chameleons are counted by herpetology keepers Adam Richardson