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Chester Zoo's Baby Boom Of Rare Species
Chester Zoo has warned the threat of extinction for some species is now so great that some of its animals may become part of "an insurance population".
The zoo, a registered charity, has been celebrating an unprecedented baby boom with the arrival of some rare creatures that are seriously endangered in the wild.
Among them is Chanua, a female black rhino calf whose arrival has delighted visitors and zookeepers alike. The zoo believes the birth is another step towards sustaining a population ravaged by poachers.
Curator of mammals Tim Rowlands said: "This is not just about visitor numbers, it's about the fact that we have got the animal welfare right, the animal husbandry right and this will help our conservation. We take a major part in the conservation work of the black rhino for example.
"There is that thought that some of these species in the future may go back [to their natural habitats] but some of the other species won't. They are 'ambassador species' but it's not safe to put anything back at the moment."
The zoo has also recently welcomed a baby endangered Rothschild giraffe after searching a 'dating site' for the species online.
Senior giraffe keeper Lizzie Bowen explained that the new arrival was fathered by Thorn, which had shown little interest in potential partners until they found a female called Dagmar.
"We put Thorn's genetic details into an online database and it turned out a perfect match for him," she said.
There are now less than 670 Rothschild giraffes left in the wild following the loss of their traditional habitat in native Kenya and Uganda.
Chester can add rare giant otter pups and a baby Sumatran orangutan to its list of new arrivals - both belong to endangered species.
But zookeepers are particularly proud of an okapi calf called Tafari - she's the first okapi to be born at Chester in the zoo's 80-year history.
The zoo's endocrinology lab is the only one in the UK specialising in the study of hormone levels in wildlife. When animals fail to breed clues can sometimes be found by examining hormones.
Mr Rowlands said: "Tafari's arrival is a real landmark birth for the zoo. We've been working with okapi for almost six years and to finally see a beautiful, healthy calf on the ground after all those years of hard work is absolutely fantastic."
The species is found only in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This year conservationists were shocked to discover that 19 people had been killed and an entire breeding herd of okapi were wiped out after poachers raided a DRC wildlife reserve part-funded by Chester Zoo.