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Taronga Zoo is celebrating its first Pygmy Hippopotamus calf birth in 23 years.
The youngster named ‘Monifa', meaning ‘I am lucky' in Nigerian weighed just 3.8 kilograms when it was born in the early hours of October 15 to first-time mother, ‘Petre' and father ‘Timmy'. However after a difficult breach birth, the Zoo's dedicated keepers made the decision to intervene and hand-raise the precious female calf.
Keeper, Renae Zammit, said: "We had hoped that Petre would be able to raise the calf, but after birthing complications the new arrival struggled in the first 24 hours to stand and suckle. With only one other breeding pair of Pygmy Hippos in the Australasian region every precaution was taken to give it the best chance of survival."
Renae and fellow keeper, Tracey Roberts, have literally moved into the Zoo to care for Monifa in alternate 24 hour shifts, sleeping at the Taronga Wildlife Hospital in order to feed and tend to the youngster's every need.
"Although it is a massive undertaking, it is definitely a labour of love. She is quite an unusual looking baby, she almost doesn't look real but after months of planning for this birth, it was love at first sight," said Renae.
Currently the calf is having six daily feeds of a substitute milk formula, however such is the trust developed between the keepers and the animals in their care, Renae was able to initially milk Petra's colostorum, a pre-milk developed by the mother which is packed with antibodies and important nutrients that boosts natural immunity.
"At first it was a battle to get Monifa to recognise the artificial teat, but it is now thriving, drinks readily from a little bowl and has nearly doubled its birth weight. The infant is such an inquisitive little thing and loves bath time; she even turns somersaults in the warm water. At the moment the youngster's life consists of feeding and sleeping. She has also just graduated from the hospital, moving into the Hippo dens full-time so she is able to smell and hear the Hippo parents. "said Renae.
The youngster will be weaned at four to six months of age. Being solitary animals, when older the little female will time share the exhibit with the adult hippos but live in a separate den complete with misting machines to keep her skin hydrated.
Zookeeping colleagues at Henry Doorley Zoo, America, named the baby. Their Pygmy Hippo born earlier this year was named ‘Zammit' after Renae worked alongside their keepers during the final stages of the zoo's Pygmy Hippo pregnancy and the subsequent birth of a male calf.
Monifa is important to the regional population of eight Pygmy Hippos. Foot and Mouth Disease in European countries has restricted the importation of hoofed species making every birth significant for the local gene pool.
As Pygmy Hippos are solitary nocturnal forest dwelling creatures, little is known about them in the wild. The majority of research recorded about the species has been learned from those cared for in Zoos.
The survival of the species in Zoos is more assured than in the wild: the World Conservation Union estimates that there are fewer than 3,000 Pygmy Hippos remaining in the wild. Pygmy Hippos are primarily threatened by loss of habitat, as forests are logged and converted to farm land, and are also vulnerable to poaching, hunting, natural predators and war.
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