Keepers, conservationists and scientists at Chester Zoo have celebrated a vast array of births in 2017 – including some of the rarest animals on the planet.
From the first Andean bear to ever be born in mainland Britain to the inaugural hatching of a Bermuda skink anywhere in the world outside of Bermuda, wildlife experts at the zoo have attributed the baby boom of rare animals to meticulous planning, world class facilities, highly skilled staff and a scientific underpinning.
Steve Creswell looks back over the year’s arrivals…
lDouble rhino joy – Hazina and Ike born in the space of a week
BIRTHS of not one but two incredibly rare Eastern black rhino calves gave a huge boost to global numbers of the critically endangered species.
The first of the precious pair, a female named Hazina, was born to mum Kitani with little Ike, a male, arriving to Zuri exactly a week later.
With each and every new rhino calf important to the future of the species, the two arrivals heralded further success to an acclaimed breeding programme for the highly threatened species.
It is believed fewer than 650 Eastern black rhino now remain across Africa, due largely to a huge surge in illegal poaching.
The in-depth specialist knowledge developed by the zoo’s keeping and science teams running the rhino breeding programme is being used right now in Africa to boost conservation efforts in the wild.
lPrecious Madidi is first Andean bear born in mainland GB
ADORABLE Andean bear cub Madidi was the first of her species to ever be born in mainland Britain.
Born to mum Lima and dad Bernie the arrival of the cub was hailed as momentous by zoo experts, with the species widely regarded as a something of a mystery to conservationists.
Made famous in the UK through the classic children’s character Paddington Bear, the Andean bear is the only bear to inhabit South America, where its number is in decline.
Population estimates for the species were last made a decade ago, placing wild numbers at just 20,000, and scientists and conservation experts from the zoo are currently working with Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) to study bear-human conflict for the very first time in an area of dry forest in Bolivia.
lAsian elephant Aayu welcomed into herd
AFTER a pregnancy lasting 22 months, Sithami Hi Way, an Asian elephant, gave birth to male calf Aayu.
Arriving overnight, keepers stayed up late to monitor the birth live via remote cameras, with Sithami delivering her calf onto soft sand after a 20-minute labour.
Aayu was welcomed by the rest of Chester’s elephant herd, including fellow youngsters Indali and Nandita – an invaluable addition to the breeding programme for the endangered species.
Asian elephants are highly threatened in the wild and conservationists from the zoo are working in India to protect the species from human-wildlife conflict.
lJavan green magpie chicks boost rare species
JAVAN green magpie chicks hatched at the zoo, providing a major fillip to conservation efforts to save the birds from extinction.
Conservationists and bird staff at the zoo are making every effort to try and save the species, which has been trapped to the very brink in its native Indonesian forests.
The Javan green magpie is listed as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) but bird experts are warning that the situation may have worsened amid fears that the magpies may now be close to extinction in the wild – with no recent sightings reported.
But now, the breeding of the four new chicks in Chester has given a huge lift to conservation efforts to save the birds.
lBermuda skinks hatch
in world first
TWO clutches of Bermudian skinks became the first of their kind to hatch outside of their homeland.
Following years of work by zoo conservationists and 43 days of incubation, seven skinks hatched in a dramatic breakthrough in the fight to save the critically endangered species.
Also known as ‘rock lizards’, the small skinks are a much loved cultural icon in the British Overseas Territory of Bermuda – and are an important part of the ecosystem.
Yet the species is on the brink of extinction in the wild, as habitat destruction and introduced predators have almost wiped them out.
In a last-gasp attempt to prevent the species being lost forever, the Bermudian government called on experts at the zoo to help breed the species in the UK.
lLittle dik-dik Thanos makes a big impression
KEEPERS stepped in to raise young antelope Thanos after his mum passed away soon after giving birth.
The tiny Kirk’s dik-dik, who at the time was no bigger than a bottle of pop and too light to register on the zoo’s set of antelope scales, was bottle fed by staff five times a day.
Kirk’s dik-diks grow to a maximum size of just 40cm, making them one of the smallest species of antelope in the world. Although small in stature, Thanos made a big impression on everyone at the zoo.
l Zoo’s first litter of endangered painted dog pups born
THE birth of a litter of rare African painted dog pups was caught on ‘den cams’.
Born to mum K’mana, it was the first time the endangered species had ever been bred at the zoo, bringing vital new blood to the international breeding programme for the highly threatened animals.
Painted dogs are one of Africa’s rarest carnivores and conservationists fear there may be fewer than 1,500 breeding adults left.
The zoo’s long-standing conservation support in Africa is, however, working hard to create a brighter future for the impressive dogs.
lLandmark newt breeding gives new hope to species
ZOO experts successfully hatched one of the world’s rarest amphibians giving a huge boost to efforts to save it from extinction.
It was the very first time the Montseny newt, a critically endangered species, had ever been bred outside of its native Catalonia.
The zoo, renowned for its conservation work with threatened reptiles and amphibians, became the first organisation in the world outside of Catalonia to join a recovery plan for the animals, after being approached by the Catalan government.
Conservationists from the zoo are now helping to ensure the continued survival of the newts, with young hatched within the programme eventually being introduced back to the Montseny mountain range in north-eastern Catalonia to help boost numbers.
lRothschild’s giraffe calf Narus becomes internet sensation
RARE Rothschild’s giraffe calf Narus was born to mum Orla – with remarkable CCTV footage of his birth viewed by millions of people around the world.
The newborn calf became an overnight social media phenomenon as video of him being delivered smoothly onto soft straw, from quite a height, was shared worldwide.
Conservationists from the zoo were thrilled that Narus’ arrival helped to put a major spotlight on the endangered species and the different threats it faces in the wild.
Rothschild’s giraffes are one of the world’s rarest mammals and recent estimates suggest that less than 1,600 remain.
The zoo is working in Africa on a conservation action plan to ensure that populations don’t fall to an even more critical level.
lBaby chameleon trio hatched in zoo first
THREE colourful chameleons, so tiny they each fit on the end of a finger, became the first of their kind to hatch at the zoo.
The trio of Cameroon two-horned mountain chameleons arrived from a clutch of eggs laid by mum Ruby.
As their name suggests, the species is found living at altitude in the West African nation of Cameroon where they are thought to live in just 10 locations.
Sadly, the already small amount of habitat available to them is being affected by human activity - degradation, agriculture and climate change - making these chameleons more and more vulnerable.
Another big threat to their survival is the international pet trade. Thousands of live chameleons have been taken from the wild and traded from Cameroon in the last dozen years.