At 11.55 p.m. on Sunday 10 July 2022, a baby okapi was born at Basel Zoo. Toka’s birth has been the source of great excitement: he is only the fifth forest giraffe calf to be raised at Basel Zoo in over 20 years.
The new son of mother Ebony (10) and father Imba (15) is called Toka. The small bull is strong and curious. Immediately after he was born in the night between Sunday 10 and Monday 11 July 2022, he stood up on his shaky but stocky little legs and went in search of milk. Now, at 11 days old, Toka is in the best of health and is feeding regularly. After Quenco, who was born in 2019, Toka is okapi cow Ebony’s second successful birth. Her first calf came too early in 2017 and was stillborn.
Just before midnight on 13 May 2022, a male Indian rhino was born at Basel Zoo. Mother Quetta (28) and little Tarun are both in good health and spirits. Tarun is Quetta’s fifth calf, and the 36th Indian rhino to be born at the zoo. Basel Zoo runs the international studbook for Indian rhinos, coordinates the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) and is also a strategic partner of the International Rhino Foundation (IRF) supporting various species conservation projects.
After a gestation period of 16 months, or 498 days to be exact, Quetta gave birth to a male calf at Basel Zoo on 13 May 2022 at 11.35 p.m. The calf’s father is Jaffna. Both mother and calf are doing well. To give Quetta some peace and quiet after the birth, the rhinocerous house has been closed to the public until now. It is now open to visitors again, but there may be some times where it is closed off out of consideration for the mother and calf.
On the morning of November 13, 2021, Somali wild ass mare Mwana gave birth to little Salia. What sounds like good news was actually a race against time. The natural mother-young bond was broken after birth; Salia's survival was in danger. It was only thanks to the foresight of the veterinary team at Basel Zoo that the two of them trot together today.
Salia is the name of the youngest offspring of the Somali wild ass. As a descendant of the stallion Adam, who has few relatives in the European population, she is genetically a very important and valuable animal. The scenes that happened on the weekend of November 13th and 14th at Basel Zoo were therefore unsettling: the mare Mwana was visibly stressed and overwhelmed with the young animal after giving birth - which often happens with first-time mothers. This meant that the bond between mother and young animal could not develop properly. Mwana showed no interest in her boy and drove Salia away as soon as she wanted to drink. The chicks chances of survival dropped drastically.
A story with happy end
Basel Zoo wanted to refrain from hand-rearing. Good advice was expensive. Accordingly, the veterinary team at Basel Zoo got support from two horse specialists from the region on Monday, November 15, 2021. Together it was decided to give Mwana a hormone injection so that she could relive the birth hormonally. The vital bond between mother and foal was established within 30 minutes. For the first time, little Salia was allowed to drink extensively. Today the offspring is fine. She is playful and likes to test her long legs when she does sprints together with her mother in the outdoor area.
Salia is one of around 200 Somali wild asses living in zoos around the world. In nature, these donkeys are threatened with extinction and are among the rarest mammals. Only a few hundred animals still live in Ethiopia, Eritrea and perhaps Somalia. Wars, competition with the population's livestock and the meager food and water reserves have decimated their populations extremely in recent years. This makes the efforts of the zoological gardens all the more important with the European conservation breeding program, called EEP (ex situ program of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria EAZA) to preserve this rare mammal species. Basel Zoo coordinates the EEP of the Somali wild ass and maintains the international herd book.
Female chimpanzee Kitoko is currently looking after two little ones at once. When heavily pregnant, she promptly adopted the son of her sister Fifi, who was unable to look after her newborn for health reasons.
On 26 June, 28-year-old female chimpanzee Fifi gave birth to a healthy baby girl. Everything seemed to have gone well, except for the fact that Fifi handed her baby over to other members of the group unusually early. However, Fifi continued to regularly suckle the little one. After around two weeks, Fifi became weak and developed a limp in her hind legs. Although the zoo vet gave Fifi intensive care, she showed no signs of improvement. The vet could not find any cause for Fifi’s symptoms. At the end of July, the zoo keepers noticed that Kitoko, Fifi’s sister, was caring for the newborn the majority of the time and had even begun to suckle it. A few days later, Kitoko gave birth to her own baby boy, who she initially appeared to ignore. However, father Kume (18) and other members of the group insisted that Kitoko should look after the young male. Experienced mother Kitoko has been taking care of the two little ones ever since. Both are doing well and developing normally. The young female is called Sangala and Kitoko's son is named Sabaki.
Adoption in the wild
Chimpanzees will sometimes also adopt babies in the wild. Baby chimpanzees are dependent on their mothers for the first six years of their lives. If the mothers die prematurely, the young animal’s chances of survival in the wild fall dramatically. If other members of the group adopt the orphaned little one, their chances of survival remain high.
However, orphaned offspring that are adopted are usually somewhat older than this – there are only two known instances in the wild of young aged under two being adopted. Scientific studies have shown that the chances of adoption in the wild are higher among related animals, and that adoptions by sisters of the deceased mother are particularly successful.
The fact that Sangala was adopted by Kitoko as a newborn is most likely thanks to the circumstances in the zoo. In the wild, the dying mother would have distanced herself from the group and taken her little one with her. The available resources and group dynamic at Basel Zoo enabled Kitoko to take on her sister’s baby. As Kitoko was expecting a baby of her own, she was prepared to look after the little one.
Using human medicine
Even after further medical examinations, including with the help of gynaecologists and cardiologists working in human medicine, Fifi has still not been diagnosed. Thanks to the vets’ care, she is now doing much better, with the exception of the lameness in her hind legs. The veterinary team is still working to establish a diagnosis.
On 3 May, a female hippo was born at Basel Zoo. Hippo cow Helvetia is already an experienced mother, which could be seen during the relatively peaceful birth that took place in the heated indoor pool. Both mother and calf have now made their first trip out into the outdoor enclosure.
The cool temperatures in May made the indoor pen much more appealing for Helvetia (29) leading up to the birth, so she gave birth to her calf in the heated indoor pool.
She stayed in the Africa house for the first few weeks after giving birth and did not want to leave the pool. On 1 June, she leisurely padded out of the pen, followed by her daughter Serena, and slid into the little river in the outdoor enclosure.
The new father is 30-year-old Wilhelm. The imposing bull and Helvetia get along very well most of the time. However, Helvetia will not let him near her calf yet and is proving to be a protective mother.
Visitors may need to be slightly patient, but with a little luck they will be able to see the small family in the outdoor enclosure. The Africa house is still closed at the moment.
A natural water birth
Hippos give birth and feed their young entirely in the water. This means of getting to their mother's teats and that sought-after milk demands a lot of energy from a newborn calf. After just a few mouthfuls, the calf must go back to the surface for air. They often have to interrupt their mealtimes more than ten times to resurface to breathe. This special behaviour observed in hippos comes from the fact that, in the wild, being in a river or a watering hole is the safest place for them. They largely spend their days relaxing in the water or on the banks. Only when evening has set in and it is dark do they properly go on land in search of feeding grounds. They then spend the entire night eating before making their way back to the safety of their watery homes before sunrise.
The common hippopotamus or the Nile hippopotamus?
These mammals that weigh well into the tonnes used to be known as Nile hippopotamuses, and this name is still sometimes used colloquially today. They are now known as common hippopotamuses, and they have not been found in the Nile for a long time. The last reliable sightings of hippos in the Nile area are from the early 1800s.
On 4 November, a giraffe was born at Basel Zoo, which had been waiting for the birth for several days. Everyone is delighted to see that the mother, Sophie, and Rohaya are both doing well.
The female calf was born to mother Sophie (9) in the antelope house in the late afternoon, at 4:34 p.m. Precisely one hour later Rohaya stood up on her long, wobbly legs for the first time. The baby’s father is Xamburu (11).
Sophie is an experienced mother. However, this birth at Basel Zoo required a bit of patience: almost three weeks passed between the first signs that Sophie was about to give birth and the actual arrival of the little one. At this point, things went quickly, and the little one slipped elegantly (as is usual for giraffes) from a height of two metres onto the bed of straw prepared by the zoo keeper.
The antelope house is currently being renovated, so visitors can only see the mother and child when they spend time outside. The house is scheduled to reopen in December. The giraffe group in the antelope house is now made up of five animals.
Endangered subspecies of giraffe
Basel Zoo has been keeping Kordofan giraffes since 2011. Unlike all other subspecies, Kordofan giraffes only have small, irregular spots on their inner legs. They are classified as critically endangered by the IUCN. There are only around 1,400 of these animals left in the wild, and their numbers are declining. Kordofan giraffes can be found in Chad, northern Cameroon, the Central African Republic and possibly also in western Sudan. Loss of habitat, wars and hunting have particularly affected their numbers, meaning that zoos play a very important role in maintaining genetically healthy populations.
Kordofan giraffes are rather rare in zoos: of a total of 394 zoos that record their data in the Zoological Information Management System (ZIMS), just 22 have this subspecies of giraffe. This means only 88 of the 2,029 giraffes kept by zoos are Kordofan giraffes. Every single new birth is vital in keeping zoo populations genetically healthy. Giraffes living in zoos provide an opportunity to show visitors that the creatures are increasingly rare in their natural habitat. There are only around 68,000 giraffes remaining in the whole of Africa.
After two years without any offspring, Basel Zoo’s squirrel monkeys now have a whole troop of new arrivals. Eight tiny monkeys are currently clinging to their mothers’ backs.
These little monkeys with their striking yellow coats were all born at Basel Zoo between 10 May and 17 June. There is a good reason for the previous lack of offspring: the group was made up entirely of females for two years, until a new male arrived at the zoo at the end of 2019. The recent glut of children was the gratifying result. It has been 34 years since there were this many young squirrel monkeys at the zoo at once.
Of the eleven females in the current group, only the oldest (26) and the two youngest (3) have no young at the moment. The oldest of the three males (13) is the breeding stud and thus the father of the eight babies.
At Basel Zoo, the squirrel monkeys share an enclosure with the woolly monkeys. The two species get along well: the older squirrel monkey children like to climb all over the woolly monkeys and are sometimes even permitted to ride on their backs.
Males only tolerated during mating season
Squirrel monkeys live in female groups consisting of a mother, her adult daughters and their offspring. Males are expelled from the group at the age of two or three, after which they live in bachelor groups. The strongest bachelors gain huge amounts of weight just before mating season and switch into a female group to produce offspring. Mating season is therefore an exceptional time for this monkey species. At Basel Zoo, this lasts from November to January and the baby monkeys are born five months later. This lines up perfectly with the beginning of insect season, as insects are one of squirrel monkeys’ favourite foods. After mating season, the females will no longer tolerate the presence of males and will drive them away again.
Unlike many primates, squirrel monkeys mark their territory with scent marks and use these as a way to communicate with each other. They do not have special glands for this purpose – they simply urinate over their hands and feet and then rub them into their fur, spreading the scent all over their body and passing it on as they wander around on the branches and ropes. They rub their backs or chests against important parts of the enclosure to pick up the scents of other members of the group or to leave their own scent behind.
Squirrel monkeys can differentiate between the smells of group members and those outside of the group. This ‘urine washing’ becomes particularly vigorous during the mating season. As a result, squirrel monkeys have their own characteristic smell. The zoo keepers are careful not to clean the climbing structures too thoroughly, to ensure that the scent marks are not removed.
Squirrel monkeys are also called saimiris. They live in the rainforests of the southeastern Amazon basin, northern Bolivia, southern Peru and eastern Brazil, primarily on riverbanks. They eat fruit and insects. Around 80% of their time searching for food is spent hunting insects and other small animals. If no fruit is available, they will feed entirely on insects.
Squirrel monkeys are not endangered in the wild, but the population trend is clearly declining. Loss of habitat and hunting are particular issues for this species. A European breeding programme (EEP – EAZA ex-situ programme) coordinates the species’ breeding in zoos, with Basel Zoo serving as the coordinator. The programme covers over 900 animals.
As soon as the baby meerkats emerged from their den at Basel Zoo, their lessons at meerkat 'school' began. After all, practice makes perfect!
The tiny meerkat triplets peeked out of their den for the first time on 19 September. Their mother gave birth to them in the underground passageways four weeks earlier. The trio are now confidently darting around between the adults’ legs and watching everything they do very closely.
Venomous animals on the menu
The offspring were born after a pregnancy lasting just eleven weeks. Meerkats are carnivorans belonging to the mongoose family. They live in large social groups and can be found in the open, dry areas of southern Africa. They like to eat insects, snakes and other reptiles. However, they first have to learn how to catch them, a process that is not without its dangers. This is why baby meerkats go to ‘school’. Step by step, they follow the older animals and observe them looking for food and catching prey. Initially, they are given prey that is already dead, but later they learn how to catch venomous animals themselves and how to eat them safely.
Learning by imitating
Identifying dangers, whether in the air or on the ground, is a skill that has to be learned. There are up to 30 different sounds to learn. Baby meerkats learn by imitating the behaviour of the adults: they sit back on their hind legs and practice watching the sky attentively, just like their ‘teachers’. If there is any danger, the ‘watchers’ emit a cry of alarm and all the creatures disappear into the burrow.
Sleeping is the only thing that young meerkats do not have to learn to do, as after an exhausting day at school, they naturally cuddle up together and their mother wraps herself around them.
Basel Zoo is currently home to 14 meerkats of varying ages.
Ten baby Nutrias are frolicking through the foliage in the Nutria enclosure at the Basel Zoo. With so many busy babies, visitors will always find something to watch at this popular exhibit.
Basel Zoo has kept Nutrias since 1943, and more than 400 youngsters have been born at the zoo since then. Baby Nutrias are born fully furred and with their eyes open. They begin eating plant material within hours of birth, but they also nurse for seven to eight weeks. These diurnal rodents are semiaquatic, so they divide their time between land and water. Adults weigh 10-20 pounds.
Photo Credit: Zoo Basel
Nutrias, also known as Coypu, are native to South America, where they live near rivers and lakes. They feed on plants and live in large groups, which also have smaller subgroups within them. The subgroups are made up of breeding pairs and their offspring.
At the beginning of the 19th century, Nutrias were hunted for their beautiful red-brown fur, and were later bred in farms in Europe, North America, and Africa. As animals occasionally escaped from the farms, populations of these highly adaptable animals became established all over the world.
The feeding and burrowing behaviors of Nutrias can be destructive to wetlands where they have been introduced, so in some areas they are seen as a nuisance. Each animal may eat up to 25% of its body weight in vegetation every day. They are often mistaken for Beavers (which are much larger than Nutrias) and Muskrats (which are smaller than Nutrias).
Nutrias are currently listed as a species of Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
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.
Photo 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.