A rare and endangered Rothschild’s giraffe has been born at Chester zoo.
Keepers said the 1.82-metre (6ft) calf, which is yet to be sexed or named, arrived to first-time mother Tula and father Meru at about 7am on Boxing Day 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. Estimates suggest fewer than 1,600 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.”
Just 90,000 giraffes exist in the wild – far fewer than the endangered African elephant. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature changed the animals’ status from “of least concern” to “vulnerable” this month. Giraffes are also declining because of civil unrest in the African countries where they live.
Roffe said: “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 past 45 years the population of the Rothchild’s giraffes in Kidepo Valley national park in Uganda, where they were once found in large numbers, has fallen by more than 90%.
A huge part of the animal’s decline was due to poaching in the 1990s. Since then the population has failed to bounce back as habitat loss continues to threaten their survival.
This year Chester zoo’s giraffe experts travelled to Uganda to help its project partners, the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, conduct their first census on the Rothschild’s giraffe species in an attempt to better understand why the population in the national park is not increasing.
Tim Rowlands, the zoo’s curator of mammals, said: “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 calf is the second endangered species to be born at the zoo this month. On 17 December, a 12-year-old Asian elephant, Sundara, gave birth to Indali after a 22-month gestation.
CCTV footage caught the calf’s arrival, and she was welcomed by the rest of the elephant herd, including her one-year-old half-sister, Nandita, who witnessed a birth for the first time.
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