5 Oct 2012

We’ve welcomed both an endangered Rothschild Giraffe and a critically endangered Black Rhino.

Despite being just a few days old, but at five-and-a-half feet tall, the first baby to arrive is already towering over the keepers.

The pure Rothschild giraffe is the firstborn for new mum Dagmar, following a 14-and-a-half-month pregnancy.

Tim Rowlands, our Curator of Mammals, said:

“Dagma is a first time mum but you’d never guess it – she has been doing brilliantly so far. She seems to be taking motherhood all in her, rather long, stride.

“The baby is strong and tall and she was on her feet really quickly and suckling from mum not long after.”

Dagmar arrived at the zoo on Valentine’s Day last year, after finding love via an online animal dating service. She was brought to the UK from a wildlife park in Denmark to be partnered with the zoo’s then bull giraffe, Thorn, after a long search on a computerised matchmaking service turned up a perfect genetic pairing.

Lizzie Bowen, senior giraffe keeper, said:

“We put Thorn’s genetic details into an online database and it turned out a perfect match for him.

“This species of giraffe is very rare and is on the ICUN red-list of endangered species, meaning careful breeding programmes in zoos are vital for their long-term survival. However, finding and getting together a good breeding pair, can be very difficult indeed.”

Just like the digital dating services that pair up people, the database contains information on gender, age, height and weight, as well as a page out of most human dating sites – details of an animal’s personality.

“Dagmar was described as being rather playful and pretty and she has certainly lived up to that. She seemed to turn Thorn’s head pretty much straight away and this week we’ve seen the result with the birth of a beautiful, pure baby Rothschild giraffe,” added Lizzie.

The new arrival is especially good news as there are now less than 670 Rothschild giraffes left in the wild, following the loss of their traditional habitat in their native Kenya and Uganda and their poaching for their meat.

The species is the most endangered of the nine sub-species of giraffe.

Both baby and mum are already on-show to the public.


Black rhino born

Just days later, staff at the zoo had cause for further celebration, with the arrival of another very important baby – a Black Rhino calf.

She may not have a name yet but she does have an important role to play as the two-day-old is another step towards sustaining a Black Rhino population which, in the wild, has been ravaged by poachers.

Mum Ema Elsa is nine years old. It’s her second calf and she has quickly learnt how to be a very good mother.

Keeper Helen Massey said:

“She’s a very attentive mum. She is doing everything right and both her and her calf seem very, very happy.”

The birth brings the number of critically-endangered Black Rhinos housed by the zoo to eight.

Mrs Massey said:

“Black Rhino face a very real threat of extinction and so every birth is vital to ensure their survival.

“The zoo puts a heck of a lot of time, money and effort into trying to protect the species in the wild and we support a number of sanctuaries across Africa. However, as the demand for rhino horn intensifies, poaching is becoming a bigger and bigger problem.

“So, in the event that the unthinkable happens and they vanish completely from the wild, we need to ensure we have an insurance population and that’s why this arrival is such brilliant news. There’s a very happy team of keepers, vets and conservationists here at Chester Zoo today.”

There are thought to be just 700 Eastern Black Rhinos remaining across the world, placing the species perilously close to extinction.

Numbers in Africa are plummeting as a result of a dramatic surge in illegal poaching. A global increase in demand for rhino horn to supply the traditional Asian medicine market, where it is wrongly believed to be a cure for everything from nightmares to dysentery, has intensified the situation in recent times.

The attrition is being driven by the astonishing street value of rhino horn, which is currently worth more per gram than gold and cocaine.

Back at the zoo, the new calf will eventually join the international breeding programme, which has already seen some black rhinos returned to Africa to help boost numbers.

Mrs Massey added:

“Our new arrival is only taking small steps at the moment, but eventually it will have a bigger role to play as part of a co-ordinated breeding programme.”

The baby rhino and mum are currently off-show to visitors while the pair are given privacy and time to bond.