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Top 10 births of 2012 at Chester Zoo

Chester Zoo has had one of the biggest baby booms in its history in 2012. The tourist attraction puts this down to things like years of planning, great husbandry/keeping staff, good facilities, the fact it has the UK’s only full-time zoo nutritionist and is the only zoo that has an on-site endocrinology lab. It’s a real team effort so the zoo has put together a list of its top 12 baby animal breeding successes of 2012

1. Chanua the black rhino

A FEMALE black rhino calf, named Chanua, was born in early October to mum Ema Elsa.

Keeper Helen Massey said: “Black rhino face a very real threat of extinction and so every birth is vital to ensure their survival.”

Just 700 Eastern black rhinos are thought to remain across the world, meaning the species is 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.

Chanua, however, will eventually join the international breeding programme, which has already seen some black rhinos returned to Africa to help boost numbers.

2. Tafari the okapi

FOR the first time in Chester Zoo’s history it celebrated the birth of a rare baby okapi.

The young female, which keepers named Tafari, was born to new mum Stuma and dad Dicky on October 10.

Okapi are the closest-living relative to the giraffe, as evidenced by their long tongues and long necks.

Earlier this year conservationists were stunned when poachers raided the Okapi Wildlife Reserve in their native Democratic Republic of Congo – an 8,000 square mile reserve part-funded by Chester Zoo – wiping out the entire breeding herd of 14 okapi and killing 19 people.

Curator of mammals Tim Rowlands said: “Atrocities like that, in areas that we hoped were safe and protected, highlight just how important it is that zoos have carefully managed international breeding programmes to safeguard the future of species like okapi.”

3. Asian elephant calf

THE elephant herd got a little larger at the end of November with the arrival of a new male calf.

He was welcomed into the group by first time mum Sundara after being born just after 1.30am on November 25.

4. Tripa the Sumatran orang-utan

TINY Sumatran orang-utan Tripa was born on October 19.

His arrival was cause for huge celebration because the species is classed by conservationists as being critically endangered in the wild, where it is estimated that less than 7,000 remain.

Mum Emma and dad Puluh are part of the European Endangered Species Programme which co-ordinates breeding between zoos to maintain genetic diversity.

Just a few months later a second baby orang-utan was born to Emma’s sister Subis.

5. Noko and Stempu the porcupettes

TWO baby porcupines – or ‘porcupettes’ – were born in early September.

The African crested porcupines – named Stempu and Noko - arrived on September 1 and 4 to mum Roxie and dad Nungu and made headlines all around the world.

Keeper Chris Grindle said: “We are very pleased indeed with our two spiky new arrivals.”

Pocupettes are born without sharp quills. Instead their spikes are soft and bendy but gradually harden after a few days.

6. Caspian the onager foal

A VERY special onager foal – the rarest species of equid on the planet – was born to mum Zarrin in June.

Threatened by illegal poaching, overgrazing and disease passed from domestic livestock, there are believed to be around just 400 left in the wild and very few zoos in the world keep the species.

However, Chester is part of an international conservation scheme and thanks to the success of a breeding programme is helping to ensure these beautiful animals are not lost forever.

Curator of mammals Tim Rowlands said: “The species is critically endangered and so the new foal is a valuable addition to the safety net population found in zoos.

“Sadly, as the rarest species of equid in the world, there is a very real possibility that they could become extinct in the wild and so constant conservation attention is required to secure the future of the species.”

7. Two Baer’s Pochard ducklings

TWO fluffy yellow ducklings, born in July, may look the same as any other you’d spot down at your local pond or lake but they are in fact two of the rarest in the world.

The critically endangered duo, along with five others, were hand-reared by the bird keeping team after they were abandoned by their parents.

Experts suggest that only a few hundred pairs of the species, known as Baer’s Pochard, are left in the wild. This is a result of hunting and loss of their habitat in Siberia and eastern Asia where they were once commonly found.

Chester Zoo is one of the few institutions in the world that is breeding the rare species and hopes to play a vital role in their long-term survival.

Curator of birds Andrew Owen said: “There is a plan to establish a European-wide breeding population, which will act as an insurance, should the species continue to decline in the wild.

“We hope that these little ducklings and the expertise of Chester Zoo’s bird keeping staff will start to rear their own young next year and go on to play an important part in saving this species from extinction.”

8. Giant otter pups

TWO baby giant otters were given their first swimming lessons by mum Icana and dad Xingu in November.

Their births were cause for great celebration as it was the first time the species had successfully bred at Chester Zoo. The landmark event occurred only six months after the otters were given access to new state-of-the-art breeding facilities and dens at the zoo – including the UKs first underwater viewing zone for the species.

In the wild giant otters are found in remote areas within some freshwater lakes, rivers, creeks and reservoirs of tropical South America, where it is estimated that as few as just 1,000 may remain. Their numbers have been drastically reduced due to fur hunting and habitat destruction.

9. Kanzi the Rothschild giraffe

KANZI, a pure Rothschild giraffe, arrived on October 1 following a 14-and-a-half-month-long pregnancy for first-time mum Dagmar.

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 poaching for their meat. The species is the most endangered of the nine subspecies of giraffe.

10. Daley the Asian short-clawed otter

A BABY Asian short-clawed otter, born on May 25, was named Daley after British diving star and Olympic medallist Tom Daley.

Keeper Hannah Sievewright said: “Our Asian short-clawed otters are one of the zoo’s most adept species in the water and so we thought Daley was very apt to name our newborn pup after one of our best athletes from the pool.”

Asian short-clawed otters – the world’s smallest otter species – are classed by conservation organisations as vulnerable to extinction. The pup will therefore eventually become part of a Europe-wide breeding programme, providing an important safety net to populations in the wild.

11. Black storks

EARLIER this year keepers hand-reared the UK’s only black stork chicks.

The chicks were each fed 40 grams of meat, including rat and trout, every four hours between 7am and 7pm.

Keeper Amy Vercoe said: “The stork eggs were abandoned by their parents and so we stepped in to take care of them.

“We’re the only place in Britain to be breeding the species and so it’s really important that we get as many chicks through to adulthood as we possibly can, to boost both our population here and subsequently, the European breeding group.”

12. Black-and-white laughingthrushes

THE zoo’s most precious pair of black-and-white laughingthrushes were successfully rearing two young this year.

The zoo hopes these two young birds will go on to breed in the future and add their valuable blood-lines to the European captive breeding programme population.