The Herald meets some of the newest and cutest residents in New Zealand’s zoos
Most zebras are known for being shy, but baby Eve isn’t one of them.
The 11-month-old foal joined Auckland Zoo’s zebra family on Christmas Day last year. The zoo is home to three female zebras and one male.
Keeper Tommy Karlsson says that Eve is a “very playful little lady”.
And she isn’t shy around the other animals who share a habitat with the zebras.
“She plays around in the habitat with our giraffe – they enjoy each other’s company,” says Karlsson.
“Eve was also the first zebra that walked straight up to our new waterbuck to say hello, while the adults stayed in the back.”
Auckland Zoo’s zebra live in a savannah habitat along with giraffes, ostrich, and waterbuck. If you’re lucky, you can get up close to them at the watering hole, though feeding and close encounters aren’t offered.
“Zebras are very popular with our visitors,” Karlsson says.
“A lot of our regular visitors know a lot about the individuals and have followed them for years.”
Each individual zebra has a unique pattern of black and white stripes. Just like human fingerprints, no two zebras have the same pattern of stripes.
Zebras sleep standing up. They can lie down for a short time but normally stand and shift the weight around their legs.
They also make a very high-pitched bray, “a bit like a pig”, says Karlsson.
Zebras are usually pregnant for around 12 months and give birth to one foal – or, very rarely, twins.
A sanctuary in Wellington suburbia
The first-ever takahē chick to be successfully raised at Zealandia is still thriving in the wildlife sanctuary.
Last year, chick Te Āwhiorangi was hatched and raised by takahē parents Nio and Orbell, the only other members of the under-threat species in the sanctuary.
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The 225-hectare ecosanctuary Zealandia nestled into the Wellington suburb of Karori is home to countless other native birds.
It’s a sanctuary rather than a zoo. The animals here are wild, which means they’re hard to keep track of, says lead ranger Ellen Irwin.
“We do monitor certain species, either because they are threatened, like hihi and takahē, or because they’ve recently been translocated here, like the titipounamu or spotted skink.
“We monitor hihi using next boxes, which gives us some indication of trends and how the population is doing.
“The birds are wild so they don’t have to use our nest boxes, and every year we have some hihi nesting in natural cavities.”
There are many different species at Zealandia, including over 30 species of native birds, around eight species of reptile, one amphibian, three species of fish, and many invertebrates. It’s also home to about 130 spotted kiwi.
Some of these are migratory and are only in the valley where Zealandia sits occasionally or at certain times of the year.
Many of these species are vulnerable and several are threatened, such as the Maud Island frog, hihi and takahē.
You can take a shuttle from Wellington’s CBD to Zealandia to spend a day meeting the animals.
You can also take a tour of Zealandia by night to see the nocturnal species like wētā, glow worms and tuatara.
Playful, cute and a symbol of life
Red panda cubs are a rarity at Auckland Zoo, which is why baby Tashi is so special.
The zoo welcomed male red panda Tashi in December last year. Now nearly 1 year old, he’s joined four other red pandas living in two habitats at the zoo.
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Red panda breed on only one day of the year, so it’s very special to have a red panda cub.
Tashi was born on December 1, 2018, to first-time parents Khela and Ramesh.
Tashi is currently living with his aunty Bo, as he’s recently moved out of his parents’ pad.
Keeper Lauren Booth says Tashi is very playful and this means sometimes he doesn’t understand the concept of personal space – both of the other pandas and the keepers.
“He tends to be front and centre and overly helpful when keepers are trying to work and can be a very cute nuisance,” she says.
Booth loves working with red panda because of their gentle nature, she says.
“It can really bring you back down to Earth during a hectic day.”
Red pandas are critically endangered in their home country Nepal.
Auckland Zoo supports the Red Panda Network and their forest guardians who work to save red panda in the wild through education and monitoring, which includes removing snares.
“Red pandas are more than just cute creatures, they are symbols of life,” says Auckland Zoo’s content and social media manager Aja Pendergrast.
“Where they thrive in the mountains of South Asia you find healthy forests, clean water, vibrant ecosystems, and sustainable livelihoods.”
Kererū, kiwi, gibbons and goats
Kererū, kiwi, gibbons and goats have joined the animal family at Willowbank Wildlife Reserve in Christchurch this year.
General manager Kirsty Willis says hundreds of baby animals have been born at Willowbank, which celebrated 45 years over Labour Weekend.
She says that around this time of year, ducklings, lambs and chicks are the most popular. “But really, any baby animal is a favourite with anyone!”
All of the main captive animals are named when they are born except the free-range animals, such as the ducklings.
Keeper Nick Ackroyd is in charge of the kererū, whio, kiwi and many other birds and says the main task is to make sure the birds hatch safely.
“This year the doves wanted to use the kererū nest and knocked the kereru chick out of the nest,” he says.
“Keepers put the chick back in the nest and moved the doves and now the mum and dad are back sitting on the chick.”
The whio eggs started hatching earlier than expected this year, he says. Normally keepers transfer eggs from the reserve to the nearby Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust for incubation before they’re released.
“We had to rush to grab the hatching ducklings and put them in an incubator before taking them to flock with the group of ducklings they’ll be released with.”
Whio weren’t the only birds that didn’t hatch when expected, with Nic the North Island brown kiwi finally starting to sit well on his mate’s eggs (female kiwi don’t incubate their eggs).
“Previously Nic hasn’t been very interested in looking after his mate’s eggs, but this year he’s turned over a new leaf and has been sitting tight on all the eggs she lays,” Ackroyd says.
This makes keepers’ jobs much easier, he says, as they don’t need to rush to collect kiwi eggs just after they’re laid.
Another baby animal popular with visitors to the reserve is siamang gibbon Kasem.
He was born on St Patrick’s Day this year and his name meaning “happiness”. The gibbon family at Willowbank are favourites with visitors.
“Gibbon breeding is done in New Zealand first and foremost for advocacy,” says reserve administrator and volunteer coordinator Lisa Milligan-Raye.
“Palm oil deforestation devastates the natural environment of many apes and other wildlife in Borneo and Sumatra.”
You can support these species by supporting brands that use sustainable oils, says Milligan-Raye.
“This means they are planting as much as they are cutting down to maintain forest regions for wildlife to live in.”
Napier’s mischief-making blue penguin
Dave may only be a year old but he already acts up like a “typical teenager”.
The little blue penguin is the youngest bird at Napier’s National Aquarium.
Dave hatched in October 2018 to parents Captain and Flip and is already entering his “teenage” years as a penguin.
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Aquarium visitor experiences marketing advisor Felicity Kibble says Dave is “a typical teenager”.
“He thinks he rules the roost and often tries to chase other penguins away from the feed station, though the older boys know how to put him in his place.”
Dave has fun chasing the keeper’s window cleaner or trying to steal the show from penguin friend Dora, she says.
Dave was the proud winner of Naughty Penguin of the Month in March and May this year.
As part of building relationships, penguins like to preen each other – but Dave took it to the next level when he tried to give a man who signed up for a Penguin Encounter a cheeky brush up.
“Dave’s very young and doesn’t know his own strength so a few hairs were tugged at on his legs – but our guest thought this was pretty special,” says Kibble.
The Aquarium takes great pride in keeping Penguin Cove neat and tidy, but Dave sees it as a chance to cause mischief.
“Cute as he is, it tends to make this job tricky for keepers,” says Kibble.
Little blue penguins/kororā are declining in New Zealand, with dogs and ferrets among the threats to their survival.
The National Aquarium is one of the only places in New Zealand where you can meet little blue penguins in a close encounter.
Meet Wellington’s capybaras
Baby meerkats and about 4000 stick insects are among the animals born at Wellington Zoo this year, but the three capybara babies are proving to be the most popular.
Two of the babies, who are all female, are around 5 months old and named Luna and Dia.
The third is just a couple of months old and is named May.
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The zoo’s head of herbivores and birds Bobby Stoop says the capybara are “charismatic, beautiful, active and engaging”.
Wellington’s eight capybara have recently moved to the top of the zoo, where you can see them in a close encounter.
The pregnancies were smooth and the female capybara are good at looking after and supporting each other, he says. Capybaras are usually pregnant for four to five months.
Capybara live in large herds and have formidable predators, Stoop says.
“They’re fairly common in the wild – we use them to tell the bigger-picture story of South America’s ecosystem.
“They share a habitat with many other species that aren’t doing so well.”
Capybara babies are “very precocious”, he says. They eat solids within the first day or so after they’ve been born.
They are a grazing species and have a big grass paddock at the zoo, with their diet supplemented with pellets.
Capybara are the largest rodent in the world and are also semi-aquatic with webbed feet.
They’re very proficient in the water, says Stoop.
“They’ll do barrel rolls in the water and the youngsters are almost as proficient at swimming as the adults. It’s great fun in the summer, everybody can see them getting into it and enjoying the water.
“We opened up their new habitat earlier this year and couldn’t be happier with it.”