The Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) is a small, tree-living rodent, which is believed to have been present in Ireland for more than 10,000 years. Many people are familiar with this iconic native species, its bright red coat, creamy white belly, bushy tail and distinctive ear tufts. However, the Red Squirrel in Northern Ireland is in serious trouble. The population has dramatically declined due to the loss of their forest habitats in addition to competition from the invasive Grey Squirrel that carries a lethal pox virus.
Zoo Manager, Alyn Cairns, explained, “Here at Belfast Zoo, we care for some of the most endangered species from around the globe but the problem is closer to home than most people think! Animals on our own doorstep are facing increasing threats and populations are disappearing at an alarming rate. Recognizing this alarming trend, the Belfast Zoo team formed a native species group in 2004 to work on a number of native species projects. In 2012, following the culmination of many years of work and consultation with local wildlife organizations, we opened Red Squirrel Nook.”
Belfast Zoo keepers have said ‘hello deer’ to a new arrival as one of their Southern Pudu has given birth!
The latest arrival was born to father, Mr Tumnus, and mother, Susan, on June 18.
The Southern Pudu originates from the lowland forests of Southern Chile and Southwest Argentina and is the smallest member of the deer family! Adults measure only 43 centimeters in height when fully grown and, at birth, a fawn is so small that it weighs less than a bag of sugar.
Photo Credits: Belfast Zoo
Senior keeper, Allan Galway, said “Although small in size, our fawn is massively important to Belfast Zoo and to the European breeding programme for the Southern Pudu. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) considers this species to be vulnerable to the threat of extinction and numbers in the wild have dramatically declined in recent years due to loss of habitat through deforestation, hunting and predation.”
Allan continued, “We have been giving Susan and her new arrival some space to bond, so have not yet determined the sex of the new arrival or given the fawn a name. When fawns are born they are a light brown color, and their fur is covered with small white spots. This helps the infant to camouflage in the undergrowth especially when they are left alone while the mother feeds.”
Belfast Zoo’s Southern Pudu family share their home with some other South American “amigos” including: Southern Screamers and Red Howler Monkeys.
Belfast Zoo visitors can now experience a new reptile and amphibian house. Summer visitors can also witness daily feeding times, a new visitor photography base camp, the Adventurers’ Learning Centre and can visit all the latest zoo babies.
A critically endangered Western Lowland Gorilla born at the Belfast Zoo on August 28 is a girl!
Because baby Gorillas cling to their mother’s belly for the first few months of life, keepers were unable to determine the baby’s gender until now. The baby has been named Olivia.
Photo Credit: Belfast Zoo
Olivia’s arrival is significant because her father, Gugas, was born in the wild and his genetic background is important to the zoo population. But Gugas had an unfortunate start to life as his parents were killed, probably for bushmeat. As a young, orphaned Gorilla, he was acquired by a Portuguese circus and became very ill. He was abandoned at the gates of Lisbon Zoo and was then moved to Stuttgart Zoo to live in a nursery group for orphaned Gorillas. He arrived at Belfast Zoo in 1998 and in 2012, with no sign of any pregnancies, the zoo tested Gugas’ fertility and the results were not promising. In fact, it was felt that Gugas would never father any young.
“Gugas has defied the odds. In fact he has had an extremely busy few years, as this is the third infant that he has fathered since 2013,” says Julie Mansell of the Belfast Zoo.
The Belfast Zoo’s Gorilla breeding program is part of a global effort to create a safety net population should this species become extinct in the wild – a very real possibility, given that Gorillas are under threat from habitat loss, the bushmeat trade, the pet trade, trophy hunting, and other human activity.
Western Lowland Gorillas come from the dense forests of western central Africa. Gorillas are the largest of all primate species. They are listed as Critically Endangered, with the wild population shrinking by 80% within the past three generations.
A little cub named Lola is the first Andean Bear birth at the Belfast Zoo in more than 20 years.
Keepers didn’t have high hopes when the Lola’s parents, Spook and Alice, were first introduced, as the two scarcely seemed to tolerate one another.
Then, in late 2015, Alice began to show signs of pregnancy. Keepers gave Alice a private den for the latter stages of her pregnancy, and Lola was born on February 6.
Photo Credit: Belfast Zoo
Andean Bear cubs remain in the den with their mother exclusively for several months. On May 31, the zoo’s veterinary staff performed their first health check on the cub, confirmed her gender, and pronounced her healthy.
Now that Lola is in the Bear habitat, zoo guests are enjoying her antics as she navigates the rocks and tries out new foods.
Andean Bears are also known as Spectacled Bears due to the light fur around their eyes, which can look like spectacles against the Bear’s darker fur. No two bears have the same pattern.
These Bears live in cloud forests on the slopes of the Andes Mountains, stretching Venezuela to Peru. There are eight species of Bear species worldwide, but the Andean bear is the only one native to South America. Andean Bears are listed as Vulnerable to Extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature due to habitat destruction and fragmentation caused by agriculture. They are also hunted for meat and for their supposed medicinal properties.
Belfast Zoo keepers are hearing the ‘pitter patter’ of tiny webbed Capybara feet as the parents, Charlie and Lola, welcomed four pups on May 10.
Capybaras (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris) are the largest rodent species in the world. These rodents are found in South America and are semi-aquatic mammals. They have webbed feet and can stay underwater for up to five minutes, which allows them to hide from predators. In fact, their scientific name even means ‘water hog’.
Zoo curator, Alyn Cairns, said “Our Capybaras live with some other South American ‘amigos’, including Giant Anteaters and Darwin’s Rhea. We have said ‘hola’ to quite a few new arrivals in this enclosure recently including a baby Giant Anteater, Darwin’s Rhea chicks and now four Capybara babies. We couldn’t be more delighted."
Cairns continued, "While the Capybara is not currently classified as an endangered species, it is hunted and poached for its meat and skin. It is important that zoos, such as Belfast Zoo, help to raise awareness of this species and the increasing dangers which they face in their natural habitat. We have no doubt that our South American babies will soon be a firm favourite with visitors!”
Photo Credits: Belfast Zoo
The Capybara is a large rodent of the genus Hydrochoerus of which the only other extant member is the lesser Capybara (Hydrochoerus isthmius). Although a close relative of Guinea Pigs and Rock Cavies, it is more distantly related to the Agouti, Chinchillas, and the Coypu. Native to South America, the Capybara inhabits savannas and dense forests and prefers to live near bodies of water. They are social and can be found in groups of up to 100 individuals.
Their bodies have been specially adapted for swimming - with webbed feet and their eyes, ears and nostrils located on top of their heads. They are able to stay submerged in water for around five minutes to help avoid detection by predators such as Jaguars, Anacondas and Caiman in their native South America.
Capybaras are herbivores, grazing mainly on grasses and aquatic plants, as well as fruit and tree bark. Their jaw hinge is not perpendicular and they chew food by grinding back-and-forth rather than side-to-side.
They are incredibly vocal animals, communicating through barks, whistles, huffs and purrs.
They have a gestation period of about 130 to 150 days and usually produce a litter of four. Newborn Capybaras will join the rest of the group as soon as they are mobile. Within a week, the offspring can eat grass, but they will continue to suckle, from any female in the group, until about 16 weeks.
You can support the care of Belfast Zoo’s Capybaras by taking part in the animal adoption scheme. Find out more at www.belfastzoo.co.uk/adoption .
Belfast Zoo welcomed a baby Giant Anteater on December 22, 2015! This endangered South American mammal was born to parents, Pancho and Kara, and the Zoo is asking for your help to name the special arrival.
Pancho arrived in Belfast from Duisburg Zoo (Germany), in 2012, and was joined by Kara from Olomouc Zoo, in February 2015, as part of the European breeding programme. There are only 200 Giant Anteaters living in zoos around the world and Pancho and Kara are the only breeding pair in Ireland!
Zoo curator, Alyn Cairns, said, “We are all delighted to welcome a new member to the zoo family. Kara is a fantastic mum and for the first six months she will carry the pup on her back nearly all the time. While this is great camouflage from predators, it also makes it extremely difficult for the keepers to get a good look at the infant to find out whether it is male or female and we don’t want to disrupt the pair at this stage. Even though we don’t know what sex the pup is, the team have come up with some names and we would love your help to pick one!"
You can help to name the Zoo’s latest arrival by voting for one of the names pre-selected by Keepers. Place your vote at: http://woobox.com/vrr9jp.
Photo Credits: Belfast Zoo
As the name suggests, the Giant Anteater is the world’s biggest anteater species and can grow up to seven feet in length. In Central and South America, they live in the grasslands and rainforests. While this species was once widespread, today their numbers vary drastically between countries. They are considered one of the most threatened mammals in Central America. In fact, in Brazil, there are serious concerns because, in some areas where they once roamed, there are now none left.
Zoo curator, Alyn Cairns, continued, “Giant Anteater populations have declined by 30% between 2000 and 2010, showing how vulnerable the species is. Our latest arrival is not only cause for celebration for Belfast Zoo and the breeding programme but also for Giant Anteater conservation as a whole. Giant Anteaters are unquestionably one of the most unusual looking species. They have a long snout, long hair, a large bushy tail and a long tongue, which is approximately 50 centimeters in length! They use their tongue to mop up insects and can eat up to 30,000 insects in a single day! We have no doubt that the newest arrival is going to be a popular addition with both staff and visitors.”
The Emperor Tamarins, at Belfast Zoo, are up and ready for “Movember”! The newest moustached member of the zoo, ‘Lucky’, was born on September 28th to mother, ‘Bella’ and father, ‘Alfie’.
Photo Credits: Belfast Zoo
“Movember” is an international campaign, held every November. Men across the globe are encouraged to grow moustaches as a means to promote and raise awareness for men’s health issues, such as prostate cancer.
Zoo manager, Mark Challis, said, “Emperor Tamarins are named after the German Emperor, Wilhelm II, because of their long white moustaches. It is fantastic that at less than two months old, little Lucky has a ‘Movember’ moustache to rival anyone’s! Lucky is the third Emperor Tamarin to be born at the zoo in 2014, and we are delighted to welcome him to the Belfast Zoo family!”
Emperor Tamarins are found in the tropical rainforests along the Amazon River in Peru, Brazil and Bolivia. These primates live in family groups, and, while the mother nurses her offspring, it is the father who carries and cares for them. Little Lucky’s father, ‘Alfie’, certainly has his hands full with the new arrival, but luckily the parent’s other offspring, ‘Dot’, ‘Ethel’, ‘Ping’ and ‘Pong’, help out with the childcare!
Belfast Zoo is home to the only Goodfellow’s Tree Kangaroos in the United Kingdom and Ireland. In fact, there are only 22 tree kangaroos in the whole of Europe and only six of this subspecies.
The newborns father ‘Hasu-Hasu’ and mother, ‘Jaya’, arrived at Belfast Zoo in 2013. Keepers first noticed movement in Jaya’s pouch on in early May 2014, but it was not until recent weeks that the joey’s head was spotted peaking out!
Zoo Curator, Andrew Hope, said “Like all marsupials, female tree kangaroos carry and nurse their young in their pouch. Keepers first noticed movement in the pouch back in May, but it is only recently that the joey has started to make an appearance. The joey will remain in Jaya’s pouch for several more months before starting to explore and, for this reason, it is not yet possible for keepers to determine the sex or the name of the latest arrival.”
As their name suggests, Goodfellow’s Tree Kangaroos are tree-dwelling mammals, found in the mountainous rainforests of Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. They can climb 15 to 20 feet up tree trunks and can leap more than 30 feet through the air from branch to branch!
Belfast Zoo manager, Mark Challis, said “Belfast Zoo is home to a number of extremely rare and endangered species and, while the team is always ecstatic when any of the animals successfully breed, we are particularly over the moon with the arrival of the tree kangaroo joey! Only 13 zoos internationally are home to Goodfellow’s Tree Kangaroos, so the arrival of our joey is spectacular! The population of Goodfellow’s Tree Kangaroo has dramatically declined in the last 30 years due to the habitat destructions and hunting. Zoos have an important and active role to play in their conservation, and I am proud that Belfast is leading the way for Goodfellow’s Tree Kangaroo in the UK and Ireland.”
It’s been 18 years since the Belfast Zoo last welcomed a Red Panda cub, so when a baby was born on July 3, it was cause for celebration!
Photo Credit: Belfast Zoo
The female cub was born to mother Plocia and father Chris. Her parents came to Belfast from zoos in Poland and the Netherlands as part of a global collaborative breeding program.
Zoo keepers named the cub Phoenix after a mythological creature associated with fire, a nod to Red Pandas’ nickname of ‘fire fox.’
Red Pandas are born blind and develop very slowly. Phoenix has stayed in her nest box since birth but recently ventured out for the first time to explore her enclosure with Plocia. Zoo keepers had just enough time to take a few photos before Phoenix and Plocia returned to the safety of the nest box.
When not foraging for food on the ground, Red Pandas spend most of their time in the trees. Sharp claws make them agile climbers and long, striped tails aid in balance. Red Pandas are native to the Himalayas in Bhutan, Southern China, Pakistan, India, Laos, Nepal and Burma but it is believed that there could be fewer than 2,500 in the wild.
Zoo Manager Mark Challis said, “Red Panda numbers are declining quite dramatically and they are already extinct in some areas of China, where they were once historically found. We are all delighted to welcome Phoenix to the zoo family and we are proud to be playing an active role in the conservation of the Red Panda.”
Belfast Zoo has welcomed a ‘little star’ to their family. On August 23, 2014, Chi, the Francois’ Langur, gave birth to a small but healthy infant. The diminutive male was recently given the name ‘Xiao Xing’ which means ‘little star’ in Chinese.
Photo Credits: Belfast Zoo
The small monkey was rejected by his mother at birth. Zoo curator, Andrew Hope, intervened to care for the young infant langur. Mr. Hope explains, “There are occasions where first time mothers just do not have the skill set or the instinct to care for their young. This is fairly common in many species. After monitoring the mother and baby, it quickly became clear that we needed to become involved.”
Since then, Andrew has been instrumental in hand-rearing the tiny Francois’ Langur, taking him home to ensure 24 hour care and regular feeding every few hours.
Andrew continues “There have been a lot of sleepless nights and countless bottles but it has been so rewarding to see his progress. Francois’ Langurs are a species close to my heart. I am the studbook keeper for these langurs, which means that I coordinate the genetic and reproductive management of the captive population living in the seven European zoos privileged to keep this endangered species. In early 2014, I made the arduous climb of Mount Kilimanjaro to raise awareness for a number of conservation campaigns, including the Guanxi Francois’ Langur conservation action plan. Francois’ Langurs are facing a high risk of extinction due to habitat destruction, increased agriculture, warfare, logging and they are also hunted as food, for medicine and for the pet trade. In 2003, there were estimated to be less than 500 langurs in Vietnam and only approximately 1400 in China. It has been a pleasure to play such an active role in the conservation of this species especially as our ‘little star’ is really starting to develop a personality and become much more adventurous!”
Francois’ Langurs are found in the tropical forests and limestone hills of China, Vietnam and Laos. For this reason, contact was made with the British International School of Shanghai, Pudong Campus. The children were given the challenge of coming up with a Chinese name for the little monkey.
Nicola Howard, head of the middle school, said “The winning name that the pupils decided on was a suggestion by year six student, Marguerite Girard. Marguerite’s name was ‘Xiao Xing’ which means ‘little star’. The staff and students of the middle school are delighted to have had the opportunity to name Xiao Xing and are looking forward to regular updates. We also hope to continue our support of the species by fundraising for conservation campaigns.”
See more photos, and read more about Xiao Xing below the fold!