A rare Rothschild’s giraffe calf born on Boxing Day at Chester Zoo has been described by keepers as “the best Christmas gift.”
The six-feet-tall youngster, which is yet to be sexed or named, arrived to first time mum Tula and dad Meru at around 7am and was up on its feet just minutes later.
Rothschild’s giraffes are one of the most endangered subspecies of giraffe and one of the world’s most at risk species. Recent estimates suggest that less than 1,600 individuals remain in the wild, primarily as a result of poaching and habitat loss.
Sarah Roffe, team manager of giraffes at the zoo, said:
“Rothschild’s giraffes are highly endangered and so the arrival of a new calf is a major cause for celebration. It really is the best Christmas gift we could have ever have wished for.
“Shortly after being born, the calf was up on its feet within minutes, which was really pleasing to see. When it gets a little more used to its long legs it will be introduced to the rest of the herd but, for now, it’s important that mum and calf spend a few days together striking up those early bonds.
“This iconic species is often overlooked in Africa and, sadly, Rothschild’s giraffes are experiencing a silent extinction. They are very much under threat in the wild, so it’s vital that our new calf helps us to throw a spotlight on this amazing species. Hopefully, our not-so-little arrival can generate more awareness of the huge pressures that Rothschild’s giraffes face in the wild.”
In the last 45 years the population of the Rothchild’s giraffes in Kidepo Valley National Park (KVNP) in Uganda – where they were once found in large numbers – has reduced by over 90%. A huge part of its decline was due to poaching in the 1990’s and since then the population has failed to bounce back as habitat loss continues to threaten their survival.
Earlier this year Chester Zoo’s giraffe experts travelled to Uganda to help project partners, The Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF), conduct their first ever census on the Rothschild’s giraffe species – an attempt to better understand why the population in the national park is not increasing.
Tim Rowlands, the zoo’s curator of mammals, added:
“Our giraffe keepers have been out to Africa to lend their expertise and knowhow to an extremely important project which is aiming to improve the outlook for the species. Initiatives like this really show the role that modern zoos play in animal conservation and it will give us a better understanding of how we can help protect the species and its future.”
The Rothschild’s giraffe is named after zoologist Lord Walter Rothschild, founder of the National History Museum in Tring, Hertfordshire.
With less than 1,600 individuals remaining in the wild the Rothschild’s giraffe is more endangered than species such as African elephants and giant pandas
Roughly one-third of the surviving population of Rothschild’s giraffes live in zoos where carefully co-ordinated breeding programmes are creating a safety-net population for the species
Once wide-ranging across Kenya, Uganda and Sudan, the Rothschild’s giraffe has been almost totally eliminated from much of its former range and now only survives in a few small, isolated populations in Kenya and Uganda.Predators to the Rothschild’s giraffe are hyenas, lions, crocodiles and leopards.
The main threat to the species now is loss of habitat and poaching for meat and hides