23 Dec 2014

Our careful planning, excellent husbandry, expert keeping staff, top facilities, a detailed animal nutrition programme and scientific underpinning are factors that have all come together to achieve their breeding bonanza.

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

1. Merida the Grevy’s zebra foal

A rare Grevy’s zebra foal, a female named Merida, was born in February – the first of its kind to be born at the zoo for over 30 years.

Curator of mammals, Tim Rowlands, said:

Since our female zebras arrived a few years ago we have worked very hard to breed this highly endangered species and the arrival of this foal is not only a really good achievement for us but also good news for the species as a whole.

The zoo is part of a European breeding programme for the species which is the largest of all zebras and distinctive from its cousins given that it has the narrowest stripes.

2. Jake the Viysayan warty pig

An extremely rare piglet was born in May.

Given that the species boasts spiky, almost mohawk-like hair style on their heads, mum Viv and dad Sid were named after punk rockers Vivienne Westwood and Sid Vicious.

And their new charge was given a title to follow suit – Jake, after Jake Burns from the band Stiff Little Fingers.

Only 200 Visayan warty pigs are thought to be left in their native habitat in the Philippines – making them the rarest of all wild pigs.

Keeper Lucy Edwards said:

Visayan warty pigs are critically endangered and face an extremely high risk of becoming extinct in the wild.

They’ve suffered a drastic population crash in recent times with widespread commercial logging, illegal logging and agricultural expansion devastating vast amounts of their natural habitat. They’re also being over-hunted and their meat can often command at least double the price of domestic pork in local markets and some restaurants.

It really is a battle against time to save them.

Chester Zoo was the first in the UK to welcome Visayan warty pigs, a species that gets its name from three pairs of fleshy warts on the boar’s face. The warts protect them from rival pigs’ tusks during a fight.

3. World Cup penguin chicks

When four Humboldt penguin chicks hatched in April a real poser for keepers was what to call them.

Lead penguin keeper Karen Neech said:

Choosing names for the chicks is always tricky but with one eye on this summer’s World Cup in Brazil, we decided to kick off this year’s football campaign with some stars of our own.

Footballers have very strict diets and things are just the same for our new arrivals. But whereas footballers can look forward to a protein shake ours grow strong on a diet of regurgitated ‘fish smoothie’ provided by their parents.

Step forward Rooney (named after England forward Wayne), Gerrard (after current England captain Steven), Banks (after 1966 World Cup winning goalkeeper Gordon) and Moore (after 1966 World Cup winning captain Bobby).

4. The zoo’s first warthogs

In May, two warthogs also became the first of their kind to be born at the zoo.

The piglets, who at the time stood at just 30cm tall, arrived to first time parents Tamzin and Magnum.

Curator of mammals, Tim Rowlands, said:

This is the zoo’s first ever warthog family and so of course we’re absolutely thrilled.

Our tiny piglets are almost hairless, wrinkly and grey and already have their trademark protruding warts from which they get their name. Some may not consider them to be as ‘cute’ as many of the other babies we’ve had born here of late, but to us, they’re just as special.

5. Unusual new arrival is a real pretty Polly

Keepers at the zoo provided around-the-clock care to a rare hyacinth macaw chick, named Jesse.

The baby bird was fed up to nine times a day in a Tupperware tub which acted as a crib.

The species is endangered in the wild where populations have undergone rapid reductions in recent years due to the illegal pet trade and habitat loss.

Keeper Karen Neech said:

It’s hard to believe that our chick will eventually start to spring some beautiful deep blue feathers – at the moment it looks more like a dinosaur crossed with a plucked chicken!

Hyacinth macaws are the world’s largest parrot and are found in Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay.

6. Little humbug Zathras

Zookeepers announced the birth of a baby tapir in August.

The tiny calf – the first male to be born at the zoo for eight years – was given the name Zathras.

Curator of mammals, Tim Rowlands, said:

At the moment Zathras looks a bit like a little humbug. His brown coat currently features lots of white stripes and spots which will eventually disappear as he gets to around six-to-nine months old. The markings act as camouflage in the wild – mimicking speckled sunlight on the forest floor. He won’t be little for long though as new youngsters tend to double their weight in the first 14-21 days alone.

The zoo is a keen supporter of a conservation initiative which has been finding out valuable information about behaviour patterns and movements of tapirs in several key areas of Brazil.

It is hoped this research will help safeguard the future of the fascinating species which is increasingly hunted for its meat and for its hide, which is used to make sandals.

7. Baby meerkats

A number of baby meerkats arrived mob-handed with litters born in April and August.

Team manager Dave White said:

All of the pups are full of rough and tumble. They’re a real handful for mum, dad and the other adults in the mob who, between them, are doing their best to keep them in check.

8. Lasola the anoa calf

A ‘devilish’ new arrival was born at the zoo on October 22.

The rare anoa calf – the world’s smallest species of wild cattle – arrived after a 282 day pregnancy for first time mum, Oana.

Keepers named the new female youngster, Lasola.

Anoa live in forests and swamps on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi but are listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), with just 2,500 mature individuals estimated to remain.

Assistant curator of mammals, Dr Nick Davis, said:

In the wild they’ve been given the unfair tag as being ‘demons’ of the forest. As a result they’re persecuted by farmers who hold them responsible for damage to their cattle.

Take one look at our new calf and it’s impossible to see how anyone could label or harm them in such a way – they’re a very shy and secretive animal.

9. Sand lizards bred at the zoo return to sand dunes

Rare lizards, which were believed to have gone extinct in Wales around 60 years ago, were released on sand dunes in the north of the country in a bid to boost struggling populations.

The sand lizards – an endangered UK species – were bred at a number of specialist breeding centres, including the zoo, during the summer.

The captive breeding and reintroduction programme is helping the lizards to make a comeback in Talacre, North Wales.

Herpetology keeper Ruth Smith said:

Sand lizards are the UK’s rarest lizard and populations in some areas are so low that we can’t just rely on protecting the site, we have to help breed them to boost their numbers.

This year we’ve reintroduced 31 juvenile lizards to the wild – a record for the zoo so we’re really pleased.

Slowly and surely we’re getting them back into areas where historically they used to live.

10. Gentle lemur birth is a first for zoo

A wide-eyed lemur marked yet another first for the zoo when it arrived in June.

The new youngster – an Alaotran gentle lemur – arrived to mum Molly and dad Fady.

Curator of mammals, Tim Rowlands, said:

This is a critically endangered species that is faced with a very real threat of extinction in the wild. This is the first time the species has ever bred at Chester Zoo and so we’re thrilled.

And who could forget…

Baer’s pochard ducklings

Pudu fawn

Rock hyrax

Buffy-headed capuchin

Dwarf mongoose

Northern bald ibis

West-African black-crowned crane chicks