Zoo Basel

Zoo Basel’s New Chimp May Help Researchers

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A baby Chimpanzee, born on September 27, is seeing the beginnings of collaboration between the University of Neuchâtel and Zoo Basel, researching how apes communicate and learn.

The little Chimpanzee, named Obaye, was born at Zoo Basel and is the son of 24-year-old Kitoko. He is the youngest offshoot of the Zoo’s twelve-strong group of Chimpanzees. At the moment, he is still too small to take part in the study, but Obaye will have an opportunity to participate in the future. Hopefully, the young male will provide valuable information for the researchers.

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4_schimpanse_kitoko_obaye_fifi_ZO57048Photo Credits: Zoo Basel

A group of researchers from the University of Neuchâtel (led by Prof. Klaus Zuberbühler) is interested in how apes absorb and process information and how they solve problems. Scientists call this cognitive research.

The study is conducted by observing how the Chimps approach different situations. A screen is installed in their enclosure and tasks appear on the screen (example: the Chimpanzee must identify a tree from among other objects). If they tap the right solution on the touch screen, they automatically receive a small reward. The next step tests whether their ability to identify the image changes if it is accompanied by a sound recording. The researchers gradually set increasingly complex tasks, and their long-term objective is to study how apes communicate and how this affects learning and memory.

However, to help the Chimpanzees learn how to work the screen, the first task is a simple one: the screen lights up green and the Chimpanzee touches it for a reward.

The Chimpanzees have access to the screen for two hours every working day, and then they have the weekends ‘free’, although this is more to do with the researchers’ workload than that of the Chimpanzees. All members of the group who enjoy completing the task are able to do so, whilst those who are not interested can simply ignore the screen. Whilst some of Zoo Basel’s Chimpanzees eagerly collected their rewards, twelve-year-old Colebe was only interested in completing the tasks and chose to leave the food rewards behind. Newborn Obaye’s mother, Kitoko, has not shown any interest in the screen, as she is currently busy with her little one.

The Gorilla and Orangutan enclosures at Zoo Basel will also soon be fitted with screens to allow a comparison of cognitive abilities in the three primate species. The researchers have been trained by Basel’s zoo keepers to allow them to work near the apes, and they are also helping with everyday animal care: it is not just the apes but also the zoo keepers who are being set new tasks as a result of the university collaboration, so assistance with everyday work is welcome.

The collaboration with the University of Neuchâtel is still in its infancy, but the project is designed to last for several years and should help to study the cognitive abilities of the apes.

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Cheetah Cubs Born at Basel Zoo

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After spending months tucked away with their mother, two Cheetah cubs born at Basel Zoo can now be seen by zoo visitors. The cubs have been named Opuwo and Onysha.

Born on July 18 to first-time mother Novi and father Gazembe, the cubs’ birth is the result of careful planning and strategy by the zoo staff. 

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Geparden_mit_jungtieren_ZOB7306Photo Credit:  Basel Zoo

Cheetahs are solitary animals and will only tolerate having a partner nearby during mating season. To encourage breeding, male and female Cheetahs take turns living several enclosures behind the scenes. This allows each Cat to become familiar with a potential mate’s scent, which may encourage breeding.

If a female Cheetah shows interest in a male Cheetah, the zoo keeper must place them together immediately and hope that sparks fly. So far, this strategy has been successful for Basel Zoo with a total of 29 Cheetah cubs born there to date. The first Cheetahs arrived at Basel Zoo in 1936, but the first successful breeding occurred in 1993. Breeding Cheetahs remains a challenge for zoos. Of the more than 100 zoos holding Cheetahs in the EEP (European Endangered Species Programme), only around ten zoos had cubs this year.

It is typical for wild Cheetah mothers to move their newborns to new hiding places, so the family’s move to the zoo’s outdoor habitat on October 6 aligns with this instinct. 

Cheetahs are classed as Vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. According to an estimate by the IUCN, there were only 7,500 Cheetahs in all of Africa in 2008. This number is now thought to have dropped to 5,000.

See more photos of the Cheetah cubs below.

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Zoo Basel Adds to Flamingo Success Story

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This year, even more pages are being added to the Flamingos’ success story at Zoo Basel. Thirty pink chicks have once again hatched in the zoo’s Flamingo enclosure.

Flamingos (Phoenicopterus roseus) are a permanent feature in Zoo Basel, and have been since 1879! The first Flamingo chick hatched there in 1958. Since then, the zoo has successfully bred over 500 Flamingos. Zoo Basel is one of the world’s leading zoos for Flamingo breeding.

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4_rosenroter_flamingo_ZO50993Photo Credits: Zoo Basel

This year is a hugely successful one. Of the 120 adult birds at the zoo, approximately 90 participated in the breeding activities. About 30 chicks have already hatched, and there is a good chance that more will still follow.

Visitors to Zoo Basel’s spacious Flamingo enclosure will instantly notice two things about them: they are pink and have long legs. However, if you look closer, you will also notice that their bills are bent. This is an ingenious form of natural evolution that is totally unique to these birds.

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Zoo Basel's Owlets Stick Close to Home

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A pair of Spectacled Owl chicks, at Zoo Basel, hatched at the beginning of February. Too big for their nest, they are now quite content to perch on branches and wait for Mama or Papa to bring them food!

The owlets are already as big as their parents. However, it will be two to three years before the siblings' snowy feathers change to the dark patterns of the adults.

Keepers at Zoo Basel utilized DNA samples and were able to determine that the chicks are male and female. Staff initially suspected as much by just examining the physical aspects of the chicks. Female eyebrows are usually slightly larger than the males, but otherwise look identical. To be quite sure, determination of the sex is made by means of a genetic examination. The Zoo’s veterinarian pulled out a small growing feather and sent it to the lab. The keeper’s speculations were confirmed: the bigger of the chicks is the female.

During examinations, veterinarians also applied a chip the size of a rice kernel under the skin. With this, the bird receives a lifelong identity. This is important for the conservation programs that guide zoological breeding and care of the Spectacled Owl.

The parents of the chicks are a well-established couple. In several breedings, the two have proved that they are very caring and attentive. This winter season, at Zoo Basel, was a bit turbulent. The birds were temporarily indoors, and the two proved to be completely stress-resistant and looked after their nestlings reliably.

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The Spectacled Owl (Pulsatrix perspicillata) is a large tropical owl native to the neotropics. It is a resident breeder in forests from southern Mexico and Trinidad, through Central America, south to southern Brazil, Paraguay and northwestern Argentina.

This species is largely nocturnal. It is a solitary, unsocial bird, associating with others of their own species for reproductive purposes.

The Spectacled Owl is typically the largest and most dominant owl in its range, with the larger Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) rarely venturing into true rainforest habitats.

It preys principally on a wide array of mammals, eating almost anything that is nocturnally active. Various rodents may be primary, but virtually any type of small mammal in its habitat is vulnerable.

In Costa Rica, eggs are laid variously in the dry season (November–May), or at the start of the wet season (June–July). This owl typically nests in an unlined tree cavity, but may also use the crutch of a large tree. Spectacled Owls typically lay one to two eggs, which are incubated almost entirely by the female for about five weeks. Chicks leave the nest for surrounding branches at about five to six weeks but cannot usually fly well at this stage. They tend to depend on their parents, for several months after leaving the nest, and may be cared for and fed for up to a year once fledged. Spectacled Owls have been known to breed while still in immature snowy plumage, since it may take up to five years before full adult plumage is obtained.

The Spectacled Owl occurs over a very large range and is still a resident in much of its native habitat. Due to this, it is currently classified as “Least Concern” by the IUCN. However, in areas where prey is hunted by people, and habitats are destroyed or compromised, their population may decrease.


‘Kids’ at Zoo Basel Enjoy Springtime

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Thirteen exuberant Dwarf Goat kids are delighting visitors of Zoo Basel! The springtime births began on March 18, and the father to all of the ‘kids’ is two-year-old Wingu.

The movements of the young Dwarf Goats are a bit clumsy at the moment, but as they develop both their social and motor skills, they will soon be experts. Like all goats, Dwarf Goats are also considered to be good mountaineers and climbers.

Their hooves are an important climbing aid: the sole surface of each hoof is soft and supple, and therefore can adapt to any terrain unevenness, while the hoof edge is significantly harder. The hoof claws can also be moved against each other, so the animal always has sufficient ground contact, even at steep points.

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4_zwergziegen_jungtiere_ZO52458Photo Credits: Zoo Basel

The Nigerian Dwarf Goat is a miniature dairy goat of West African ancestry. The original animals were transported from Africa on ships as food for captured carnivores being brought to zoos; the survivors were then maintained in herds at those zoos.

Nigerian Dwarf Goats are popular as pets and family milkers due to their easy maintenance and small stature. However, because of their high butterfat, they are also used by some dairies to make cheese. They are registered by the American Dairy Goat Association, the American Goat Society, and the Nigerian Dwarf Goat Association.

Aside from their diminutive physique, they are modest, resistant and well adapted to their native tropical conditions.

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Orangutan Mom Welcomes First Born Son

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A beautiful male Sumatran Orangutan was born at Basel Zoo on March 4 and has been given the name ‘Ombak’. Ombak is a Malay word that means ‘wave’ or ‘surge’.

According to keepers, the infant’s 17-year-old mother, Kila, has become a very caring parent since the birth of her child. Ombak is Kila’s first child, but the role of mother is not a new one to her: her mother died when she was nine years old and Kila “adopted” her then two-year-old sister Maia (10), who now also lives at Basel Zoo.

Kila currently shares her enclosure with male Orangutan Bagus (15), who is showing a friendly interest but maintaining a respectful distance from her and her child. Kila has also been isolating herself in confusing situations, such as when the enclosure is being cleaned. Whether or not Bagus is Ombak’s father remains unclear: other candidates are Vendel (17) and Budi (13).

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4_orang_utan_kila_mit_jungtier_ombag_ZO55304Photo Credits: Basel Zoo

Kila arrived at Basel Zoo from Leipzig in 2012. When she first arrived at the Zoo, keepers recall she was a “little minx: nothing could frighten her and she was always the first to try out something new”. However, as soon as her new son, Ombak, was born her temper changed completely. She is now extremely cautious when she heads out into the outdoor enclosure, and her forays are only very short. She has also become a picky eater, whereas before she ate absolutely everything that was put in front of her. Despite her reticence, Kila likes to show her baby off to the Zookeepers. She even lets Zoo vets take a closer look at Ombak, but only if she is given a reward.

Baby Ombak is still entirely dependent on his mother and clings steadfastly to her fur. This clinging reflex is vital to the survival of newborn Orangutans. In the wild, Orangutans move about high up in the tops of tropical rainforests, and mothers need their hands to climb.

Orangutans are loners, so juveniles cannot learn from other members of the group, as Chimpanzees or Gorillas do. Their mothers are their only source of knowledge. Ombak will be reliant on, and suckled by, his mother for six to seven years, and only after this period is over can Kila become pregnant again. This is one of the longest gaps between births of all mammal species.

Ombak and Kila live with Vendel, Revital (17), Ketawa (4), Budi, Bagus and Maia who all came to Basel in 2012 as new arrivals after the renovation of the Zoo’s monkey house (except for Ketawa who was born at Basel Zoo).

Sumatran Orangutans (Pongo abelii) are currently classified as “Critically Endangered” by the IUCN. The species is already extinct in many regions of Sumatra. There are currently just 14,000 individual animals still living in the forests to the north of the island.

Basel Zoo supports an Orangutan conservation project in Borneo with 40,000 US dollars a year. The Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Programme aims to maintain the last rainforest areas in northeastern Malaysia. The diverse flora and fauna should be protected, including the Orangutans. The project integrates the local population’s interests into its nature and species conservation activities. Basel Zoo has supported the project since 2010.

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Zoo Basel’s Zebra Filly Plays With Purpose

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A female Grant’s Zebra, named Niara, was born at Zoo Basel on December 16. Her name means ‘one with high purpose’, and this lively little girl can be found out-and-about, with purpose, in the Africa Enclosure.

This little mare is the first offspring for mom, Jua (age 5). Initially, the inexperienced mother was unsure of little Niara stretching her head under her mother’s stomach from the side to nurse. Hunger made Niara creative, and she eventually was successful in her attempts by reaching from the back.

Niara’s father, Tibor (age 7), is also a member of the Zoo’s herd. The Zebra herd also includes the foal’s grandmother Chambura (12), Lazima (3), and little Nyati (1/2).

Niara will soon be getting to know the little Ostriches, who share her herd’s exhibit. The Ostriches and Zebras are currently making alternate use of the Africa Enclosure, as Zebras are very inquisitive and like to play at hunting the smaller birds.

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The Zebras at Zoo Basel have become acclimated to the wintery temperatures and are not really bothered by the current cold weather. Heated stalls are currently available for animals that do not cope well with the cold.

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Rhino Calf is 35th for Basel Zoo

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When Quetta the Indian Rhinoceros, who is normally calm and relaxed, began nervously pacing at the Basel Zoo on Saturday, January 7, keepers suspected that she might be in labor.  Quetta remained in her stall all night, alternately standing and lying down. Around 11:45 PM, she delivered a healthy male calf after a 492-day pregnancy.

Born while his mother was standing up, the calf, named Orys, landed on his back but soon rolled onto his stomach. Within an hour he was standing on wobbly legs.  Though he is tiny compared to his mother, Orys weighed an impressive 150 pounds a few days after birth.  

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Panzernashorn_jungtier_orys_und_quetta_ZOB3252Photo Credit:  Basel Zoo

Basel Zoo has a long history of breeding Rhinos.  Orys is Quetta’s fourth calf and the 35th Indian Rhinoceros to be reared at Basel Zoo.  The first Indian Rhino birth in a European Zoo occurred at Basel Zoo in 1956.

Every Rhino birth is significant.  Once ranging across Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent, Indian Rhinos are now found only in a few protected areas in India, Nepal, and Pakistan. Indian Rhinos are listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, with about 3,500 individuals remaining in the wild. Indian Rhinos are one of five Rhino species in the world, and all are under threat.

Basel Zoo coordinates the International Studbook and the European Endangered Species Programme for Indian Rhinos and is active in the ‘Indian Rhino Vision 2020’ project to conserve wild Rhinos in India. Globally, about 220 Indian Rhinos live in zoos.

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It’s All Black-And-White with These Llama Brothers

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At the beginning of November, two Llamas were born the same day at Zoo Basel.

The half-brothers, who look like night and day, were both sired by Salvajo. Darkly hued Novio was born to mom, Nala, and his lighter colored brother, Nabo, was welcomed by mom Saphira.

Zoo Basel keepers discovered newborn Novio, early on the morning of November 2, in the stable. Saphira gave birth to her boy Nabo on the evening of the same day.

The half-brothers enjoy playing together and have already begun to measure their strength with playful battles.

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The Llama (Lama glama) is a domesticated South American camelid, widely used as a meat and pack animal by Andean cultures since the Pre-Columbian era.

At birth, a baby Llama (called a cria) can weigh between 9 and 14 kg (20 and 31 lb). Llamas typically live for 15 to 25 years, with some individuals surviving 30 years or more.

They are very social animals and live with other Llamas as a herd. The wool they produce is very soft and lanolin-free. Llamas are intelligent and can learn simple tasks after a few repetitions.

The gestation period of a Llama is 11.5 months (350 days). Dams (female llamas) do not lick off their babies, as they have an attached tongue that does not reach outside of the mouth more than half an inch. They are said to nuzzle and hum to their newborns.

As inhabitants of the highlands, Llamas are accustomed to great temperature differences and are highly adaptable, with their woolly dress protecting them from cold.

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Rare Stingray Pups On-Exhibit at Zoo Basel

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Zoo Basel welcomed nine rare Black-tailed Antenna Stingrays on November 5th. The small, yet sensational pups are doing well and can be seen in the zoo’s aquarium exhibit.

The Black-tailed Antenna Stingray (Plesiotrygon nana), also known as the Dwarf Antenna Ray, is a freshwater Stingray that is native to the rivers and sections of the rear Amazon Basin in Eastern Peru. The small Stingray was scientifically described for the first time in 2011. They are one of two recognized species in the family Potamotrygonidae (the other being the Long-tailed River Stingray).

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The species does not lay eggs. Stingrays are ovoviviparous: bearing live young in litters of five to 13. The female holds the embryos in the womb without a placenta. Instead, the embryos absorb nutrients from a yolk sac, and after the sac is depleted, the mother provides uterine "milk". Shortly before the actual birth, the young press themselves out of the eggshell and are immediately independent.

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