Zoo Basel

How A Female Chimpanzee Became Mother To Two Newborns

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.

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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.


A New Baby Hippo At Basel Zoo

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.

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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.


Giraffe born at Basel Zoo

 

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).

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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.


A piggyback from mum: eight baby squirrel monkeys at Basel Zoo

 

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.

Insect hunting

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.


Meerkat triplets: no school holidays for the baby meerkats

 

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 Little Nutrias Nibble at Zoo Basel

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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.

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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).

 


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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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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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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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.