28 Aug 2013

And we put this down to things like years of planning, great husbandry, expert keeping staff, good facilities, the fact that we have the UK’s only full-time zoo nutritionist and also that we’re the only zoo that has an on-site endocrinology lab, where hormone testing offers all sorts of clues and information to aid animal breeding.

Here’s our list of the top 10 baby animal success stories of the year…


1. Sumatran tiger sisters, Kasih and Nuri

Two rare Sumatran tiger cubs – both girls named Kasih and Nuri – were born at the beginning of June to mum Kirana and dad Fabi.

Tim Rowlands, curator of mammals at the zoo, said:

“It’s believed that only 300-400 Sumatran tigers are left in the wild so these births are not only a great achievement for Kirana and everyone here at the zoo but also really important news for the future of this species. It’s a rare boost to a critically endangered animal.”

Sumatran tigers are found only on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. It is one of the rarest big cat species in the world as, in the wild, they are poached for traditional medicines and much of their jungle habitat has been destroyed.


2. Northern cheetah cubs, Bakari and Safi

Just days after the births of our Sumatran tiger cubs the zoo was celebrating yet more big cat arrivals, in the fluffy shapes of two rare northern cheetah cubs.

Brother and sister, Bakari and Safi, were born to mum KT on June 4.

Their arrivals were not only a cause for celebration in Chester but also the International Endangered Species Breeding Programme working to save the species from extinction.

Over the last 100 years the wild population has plunged by 90% and it is feared there may be as few as 250 northern cheetahs left.

Team manager of carnivores, Dave Hall, said:

“Cheetahs may be the fastest animals on land but they’re struggling to outpace the threats to their survival in the wild. They have fallen prey to hunting, human conflict and habitat loss in their native Africa. Sadly, they are now vulnerable to extinction.

“Northern cheetahs exist only in a handful of zoos in Europe and the fact we now know how to breed them at least gives us hope that we can maintain a healthy, viable population in zoos.”


3. Komala the greater one-horned rhino

For the first time in our history we celebrated the birth of a greater one-horned rhino calf – although it was something of a surprise for our keepers!

The young female, named Komala, was born to new mum Asha on July 7. But she certainly raised a smile amongst staff who weren’t expecting a baby this year.

Tim Rowlands, curator of mammals, said:

“Although we had an inkling that our Indian rhino Asha was pregnant, it was just that, an inkling and a hunch that comes with experienced keepers. So, it was a rather marvellous surprise to come in and find that Asha had a big bundle of joy of her own.

“Komala is a breeding first for us but also a bonus for the population of greater one-horned rhinos which are yet another rhino species being put at risk as they are cruelly and brutally poached for their horn.”

There are just 3,000 greater one-horned rhinos left in the wild and the species is classed as vulnerable to extinction.


4. The first spiny turtle to ever hatch in a UK zoo

A rare baby spiny turtle – the first to ever be bred in a zoo in the UK – hatched in May.

Spiny turtles, which are native to South East Asia and Indonesia, are faced with extinction in the wild because of habitat loss, hunting and the international pet trade.

But the new arrival in Chester has given conservationists fresh hope in the fight to haul the species back from the brink.

Herpetology keeper Ruth Smith said:

“There have only ever been a handful of successful breeding efforts documented, anywhere in the world, so we’re absolutely ecstatic with our new arrival – it’s breaking new ground for us.

“Breeding these rare turtles here allows us to study and learn about their reproductive ecology and what makes these beautiful, yet complex, animals tick. And it’s that kind of information which can be invaluable for conservation action in the wild.”

The youngsters’ parents were rescued and given to Chester Zoo after an illegal haul was confiscated by wildlife authorities in Hong Kong in late 2000.


5. Embu the Eastern black rhino

Embu, a critically endangered baby black rhino, was born in June.

In the wild black rhino face a very real threat of extinction as a result of poaching for their horn and so the arrival is an important step towards sustaining a population in zoos, as back-up in the event that one day, they vanish from Africa.

Incredibly, Embu was the third black rhino born in just 10 months, following the arrivals of Chanua (Oct 2012) and Dakima (March 2013) before him.

Having three baby black rhinos on the ground is a remarkable feat. This has been partly aided by ‘dung science’ – a unique project tracking hormone levels by analysing dung, which has been able to help, for example, time when it is best to put a male and female rhino together to give the best possible chance of a successful mating.

Tim Rowlands, curator of mammals, said:

“This species is faced with an uncertain future and sadly, a very real threat of extinction. Every birth is therefore vital to their survival.

“The zoo puts a vast amount of time, money and effort into trying to protect the species in the wild and supports a number of important reserves across Africa. However, as demand for rhino horn intensifies, the poaching crisis is escalating out of control.

“That’s why we need to ensure we have an insurance population in Europe and that’s why this arrival is such great news.”


6. Bala Hi-Way the Asian elephant calf

Our elephant herd had a new arrival in January when a new female calf was born.

Bala Hi Way was welcomed into the group by mum Sithami at around 11pm on Jan 21, following a 22-month-long gestation.

Bala was the second elephant to be born in the space of just eight weeks, joining Hari who was born in late Nov 2012.

Tim Rowlands, curator of mammals, said:

“The natural bonding between mum and calf and calf with the rest of the herd is fascinating and a truly wonderful thing to see.

“And we just hope that when people come and set eyes on them, they’re inspired to try and do something to help stop the persecution that these magnificent animals face in the wild.”

Elephants in the wild are all too often injured or even killed in conflicts with humans because they wander into villages and wreck crops and damage property and the villagers retaliate against them with force.

However Chester Zoo runs a conservation programme in India, which works hard to put an end to this, helping both man and beast live together harmoniously.


7. Millie the Rothschild giraffe

Millie, a pure Rothschild giraffe, arrived on March 25 following a 14-and-a-half-month-long pregnancy for first time mum Orla.

Her arrival was 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 world’s most endangered sub-species of giraffe. Careful, managed breeding programmes in zoos and wildlife parks are therefore vital for their long-term future.


8. Rare baby lizard

A rare baby lizard hatched in August.

It was the first Bell’s anglehead lizard (Gonocephalus bellii) to ever be bred in a UK zoo.

The species is native to South East Asia and Indonesia but little else is known about the mysterious creatures.

Herpetology keeper Ruth Smith said:

“In many ways the Bell’s anglehead lizard is a real underdog. Very, very little is known about them and to reptile experts they are a compete mystery. Run an internet search on them and you’ll find that hardly any reliable information comes up – they’re that data deficient.

“What we can be sure about though is that this is the very first time the species has hatched in a zoo in the UK and possibly even Europe. So we’re absolutely thrilled with our new arrival.”


9. Penguin chicks named after characters from Dr Who!

This year’s group of Humboldt penguin chicks were out of this world – and had names to match!

Keepers chose to name the new arrivals after characters from the hit TV show Dr Who, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.

Weighing just 66g the first to hatch was naturally called The Doctor and he was soon joined by Dalek, TARDIS and Gallifrey.

Humboldt penguins are an endangered South American species, which come from the coastal areas of Peru and Chile. The new arrivals mean the zoo now has a colony of more than 40.

The zoo funds conservation initiatives in the penguins’ homeland to help them in their natural habitat, where they are faced with many pressures including over fishing of their food and habitat loss.


10. Grey-breasted parakeets

Three of the rarest parrots in the world hatched in July.

It was only the second time ever that grey-breasted parakeets had been bred in a UK zoo – with the previous breeding success also being at Chester.

Team manager of parrots and penguins Andy Woolham said:

“These little additions are very significant indeed. Chester is the only zoo that works with grey-breasted parakeets in the whole of the UK and we’re absolutely thrilled that we’ve been able to breed them, not least because there is real concern about the long-term future of the species in the wild.”

As few as 250 grey-breasted parakeets, which are native to Ceará in northeast Brazil, are believed to remain in the wild. Habitat loss and the illegal pet trade are blamed for their devastating decline.

The zoo also supports a project which is working to protect the critically endangered species in the wild.


And who could forget Neo the dik-dik…