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October 14, 2018

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Look how they’ve grown! Zoo’s baby keepers tell their tales

AT Shanghai Zoo, the babies are growing up fast.

The Bengal tiger cubs are now playing around with their siblings and mother and learning new skills, the “single child” Malabar pied hornbill is almost ready to be independent, and the kangaroos are now out of their mothers’ pouches.

This week, we’ve invited three zookeepers to share their stories about the newcomers.

Malabar pied hornbill

One Malabar pied hornbill was born at the zoo this year. The male chick is now the same size as his parents.

The female incubated for 26 days and raised the chick in the nest for two months.

Originally from southern China, the two parent birds have been living in Shanghai for more than a decade, and only started breeding babies in 2015. Their exact age is unknown.

Keeper Shi Hongyun has been taking care of the Malabar pied hornbills since they arrived, and she explained the species’ unique mating and breeding habits.

“The Malabar pied hornbills don’t accept ‘arranged marriage’ easily. They prefer to find the love of their life by themselves. Staying together doesn’t mean that they’ll breed. The male at the zoo had another mate previously and that relationship didn’t work out,” she said.

With a lifespan of around 40 years, the birds are sexually mature at 3 to 4, but may not start breeding until after 10 years of age.

Although the female lays two to three eggs, normally only one to two hatchlings survive. Previously, the Malabar pied hornbills at the zoo bred two chicks in one brood.

“The male bird feeds both the female and the babies during incubation. The workload is heavy,” said Shi. “Also, the Malabar pied hornbills lay eggs at an interval of approximately four days, that means the bird hatched from the later egg is hugely disadvantaged in size and strength. It cannot compete for food with the much bigger sibling, so the survival rate of the second bird is low.”

The low breeding rate is also the reason why hornbills are hard to find in the wild.

The species is omnivorous, eating both fruit and meat. They especially favor high protein food such as insects and mice during breeding.

Four Bengal tiger cubs born on July 20 are thriving under the care of their mother, tigress Nan Nan. They now weigh around 7 kilograms on average and are eating mostly fresh meat.

Jin Zimin, the keeper who has been taking care of the tigers for two years, said that Nan Nan was a very gentle Bengal tiger, and now that the cubs are growing bigger, she’s not that worried.

“She has very strong maternal instinct and is also quite close to people compared with other tigers, occasionally she gets a little nervous but doesn’t have too much stress response,” said Jin.

The cubs now eat chunks of beef and drink milk, sometimes chewing a bone.

The Bengal tigers at the zoo, Yun Yun the male and Nan Nan the female, traveled from Yunnan Province to Shanghai in July 2016.

This is Nan Nan’s first time being a mother and she has done a brilliant job. Normally the tiger raises one to two cubs, but she managed to raise four healthy tigers, two boys and two girls, something that’s very rare.

“The tiger’s duration of pregnancy is 100 days, so we would monitor closely and move the tigress to the delivery room, and she can rest in a quiet environment,” said Jin.

“And not all tigers raise the cubs on their own. Sometimes abandoned cubs are raised by us.”

In August, Shanghai Zoo asked the public to name the four tiger cubs. The two males are named An Bi and Yun Que after two typhoons (Chinese translations of Ampil and Hidari), while the two females are Nan Guai and Nan Qiao, combining their mother’s name Nan with the word guaiqiao, which means sweet and clever.

“We can’t distinct the four cubs very clearly now, but there’s one naughty cub that always follows the mother around,” said Jin.

The packs of kangaroos at the zoo have welcomed quite a few newcomers this year. The youngest red kangaroo named Tao Tao is now out of the mother’s pouch to explore the outside world.

Baby kangaroos usually pops their heads out at around 4 months old, but Tao Tao started to sneak peek from his mother’s pouch when he turned 3 months. The mother would push the baby back in the pouch.


“The young kangaroo drinks milk produced by the mother until it’s about a year old. Tao Tao now plays around and his mother would follow very closely to protect her child,” said Yang Jing, who takes care of the kangaroos at the zoo.

The red kangaroo is the largest of all kangaroos and can grow to about 1.5 meters tall. The kangaroos at the zoo breed freely most of the time. Two red kangaroos were born this year, and there are also two young white kangaroos and one red-necked wallaby that are already out of their pouches.

Another eastern grey kangaroo has a baby that’s still growing in the pouch.

“They are not scared of humans. When I go in to clean, sometimes the kangaroos would ‘fight’ me,” said Yang.

Some of the kangaroos’ behaviors are similar to humans, like scratching their bodies or lying on the ground in a very coquettish way.


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