What's new at Basel Zoo

The lesser kudus and sable antelopes currently have some new arrivals, with other young also on the way.

Lesser kudu Jina (6) gave birth to a baby boy on 19 February. His name is Pepo (‘wind’ or ‘spirit’ in Swahili). Jina is a very attentive mother and keeps a close eye on Pepo as he walks around the outdoor enclosure and nibbles on leaves. He is still drinking milk from his mother, but is also eating an increasing amount of solid food.

The sable antelopes also have new arrivals: Fara’s baby was born on 24 March and Evita gave birth on 10 April. The two young females already know each other and will soon have some other compatriots, as there are more sable antelopes who might be expecting young.

Like lesser kudus (and also our native deer), sable antelopes are ‘hiders’: after its birth, the mother leaves her little one in a sheltered spot and keeps a level of distance. She visits her baby twice a day so that it can drink her milk. The little one does not yet have its own inherent smell, and its mother thoroughly licks its rear to ensure it stays that way – in the wild, this keeps light brown baby sable antelopes well protected as they hide from predators. They only begin to follow their mother and the herd from the age of around three weeks.

Big and strong

The large sable antelope is a species of grazing antelope, and lives in family groups of up to 30 animals. A herd generally consists of one male together with multiple females and young animals. Basel Zoo is currently home to five females and one male. There is a strict age-based hierarchy among the females. The animals’ long sabre-like horns, of which the males have particularly large examples, are used for fighting. The animals ‘kneel’ in front of each other and each try to push the other one away with their horns – a trial of strength, but one where the competitors’ horns do not inflict life-threatening injuries. The horns are also used against predators such as leopards, lions and hyenas. Sable antelopes are widespread in the bush and tree savannahs of east Africa, Angola, Zambia and north-east South Africa.

Shy and seldom seen

Lesser kudus also live in the savannahs of east Africa, where the shy antelopes like to shelter behind bushes for protection. These graceful antelopes have become rare in the wild where poaching, habitat loss and hunting have made their lives difficult. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimates their numbers to be less than 120,000. Their breeding in zoos is organised by the European Studbook (ESB) breeding programme, and Basel Zoo has been breeding lesser kudus since 1956.