Tuesday 24 October 2017

Zookeepers begin to count their chickens (and monkeys, fish, insects ...)

A squirrel monkey shows interest in the pen of mammal keeper Olivia Perkins as she conducts the annual census at Bristol Zoo Gardens
A squirrel monkey shows interest in the pen of mammal keeper Olivia Perkins as she conducts the annual census at Bristol Zoo Gardens

Keepers have embarked on their mammoth annual task of counting all 14,200 creatures at the zoo.

Bristol Zoo Gardens and the Wild Place Project are home to around 500 species, from tiny insects to fish and birds, gorillas and pygmy hippos.

The annual animal census is done at the start of each year to verify computer audit records and check vulnerable populations are thriving.

Counting the zoo's seven gorillas or the Wild Place Project's three cheetahs is an easy task compared with adding up a school of fish, which are constantly on the move.

During the census, which takes several days, one inquisitive squirrel monkey grabbed mammal keeper Olivia Perkins' pen as she counted up his troop.

"They are so badly behaved - they are the epitome of a cheeky monkey," she said.

"They are always trying to steal things from my pockets, pulling my hair. They get so excited when I use a pen. Anything they're not supposed to have, they just want.

"Generally, we try to ignore that behaviour because we want them to be wild squirrel monkeys, but try telling them not to. It's quite difficult."

Jonny Rudd, curator of the aquarium at the zoo, has the job of counting all of the aquatic life in his care.

The trickiest include the zoo's five species of goodeids, a family of fish from Mexico and parts of the US, many of which are now threatened or extinct.

"We have nearly 800 goodeids in Bristol Zoo's aquarium," Mr Rudd said.

"Tracking them as they move in their tanks is a real challenge, making the animal census a big job."

The mammal team has had some significant breeding successes this past year, including the rare caesarian section of western lowland gorilla Afia in February.

A baby pygmy hippo named Hugo has also arrived. Pygmy hippos are classed as endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and it is thought that fewer than 2,000 survive in the wild.

The Wild Place Project has seen the arrival of two newborn female okapi, named Ruby and Kimosi. The species is also listed as endangered.

There are just 15 okapi in the UK, including Ruby and Kimosi, so their births are a boost to the breeding programme.

John Patridge, senior curator of animals at Bristol Zoo, said: " The last 12 months have been very successful in terms of animal births at the zoo, so the annual count is a big job again this year.

"However, it is an important task because it acts as an audit to check that our computer records are accurate.

"Our collection records are far more than a simple count. We have precise information on individual animals and groups, which we share with colleagues around the world to help care for our number one priority - the animals."

The zoo runs or supports 12 conservation programmes in the UK and around the world to safeguard the future of species such as western lowland gorillas, Kordofan giraffes and Livingstone's fruit bats.

Data from the census will be submitted to the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the national professional body offering advice and guidance on zoo management.

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