What's new at Basel Zoo

Baby giraffe Penda was born at Basel Zoo on 22 December. November and December saw new arrivals in the antelope house with the births of lesser kudus Pwani and Pendo. Lesser kudus and Kordofan giraffes are near threatened in the wild.

A baby giraffe was born in the antelope house two days before Christmas Eve. The new arrival is a girl called Penda. She is mother Sophie’s (7) third calf, and Xambaru (9) is her father. The little one weighed 57 kilograms at birth and is now putting on around a kilo a day.

Penda was drinking regularly right from the outset and is very active, heading outside with her mother as early as 27 December and trying out her first sprints on her long legs. On 2 January, she was able to inspect the outdoor enclosure with the whole group for the first time. She has since taken an interest in solid food and has been rummaging around in the leaf silage.

As well as her parents, Penda is joined in the antelope house by her brother Onong (2), her half-brother Osei (1.5) and his mother Kianga (10). Osei and Onong will be leaving Basel Zoo in the near future and heading to a Belgian zoo, as recommended by the Kordofan giraffe breeding programme.

Endangered giraffe species

Basel Zoo keeps Kordofan giraffes, a subspecies classified as critically endangered by the IUCN. There are only around 1400 animals left in the wild, and 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 374 zoos registered across the globe whose data is recorded in ZIMS (the Zoological Information Management System), just 24 have this subspecies of giraffe. This means only 87 of the nearly 2000 giraffes kept by zoos are Kordofan giraffes. The birth of each individual animal is vital to keep 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 70,000 giraffes remaining in the whole of Africa.

Two new arrivals for the rare lesser kudus

There have also been some new arrivals for the lesser kudus in the antelope house: on 24 November, Jina (6) gave birth to a baby girl who was named Pwani. Pendo was then born on 3 December and is the son of Cony (6). Both calves and their mothers are in good health.

Lesser kudus are very shy and cautious. Mothers hide their young away in bushes whilst they go off to find food, and the little ones do not start following their mothers until the age of about four weeks. Visitors can see this right now in the antelope house: the baby animals and their mothers are regularly out and about together in the outdoor enclosures.

These graceful antelopes have large brown eyes and proper ‘jug ears’ that help them find their way around the African bush and detect danger early. The antelope house has a special calving area not accessible to the public where the animals can hide themselves away at any time. They can also head to the outdoor enclosure during the winter when the weather is sunny.

The importance of zoo breeding

Lesser kudus can be found in Africa in Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, Kenya and Tanzania. Their numbers in the wild are declining, as their habitat is increasingly disappearing and they are hunted for their meat. Their population is estimated to be between 80,000 and 100,000 animals.

This antelope species is also rarely found in zoos: they are only kept by 26 zoos worldwide, only 13 of which are in Europe. This makes breeding these rare animals even more important. Breeding in zoos is organised by the European Studbook (ESB) breeding programme, run by Basel Zoo for this species. Basel Zoo has been breeding lesser kudus since 1956.