Michaela’s Zoo Babies

Michaela Strachan continues to follow breeding programmes in zoos and wildlife parks across the United Kingdom. Filmed over five weeks, the series captures magical moments from mating through to pregnancy, birth and the first few weeks of life.

Michaela’s Zoo Babies travels the length and breadth of the country, from the Scottish Highlands to Southampton, to discover how UK zoos are helping to rear and nurture baby animals, including some rare and endangered species.

Each programme will follow the story of several animal families, each at a different stage of the pregnancy, birthing and parenting cycle.

On Monday, Danaca the giraffe begins the longest labour in Woburn Safari Park’s history, and Raja the elephant is encouraged to take more of an interest in the birds and the bees. Meanwhile, there is trouble in paradise as things go seriously wrong for Gabby the tapir and her newborn baby.

Tuesday is a stressful day for the keepers at Blackbrook Zoo in Staffordshire, as they struggle to keep their clutch of six kookaburra chicks alive against the odds. The keepers must also cope with the surprise birth of a white-fronted lemur. At Drayton Manor Zoo, Thomas the lar gibbon is teething and bites anything he can find. Maybe a good old-fashioned teething ring is the answer?

Wednesday’s show brings a visit to Cotswold Wildlife Park in Oxfordshire, where Friday the Bactrian camel is the last of the females to have her baby – but her behaviour is a worry. Elsewhere, a keeper has his hands full when he becomes a surrogate mother to a cockatoo chick; and a tiny baby monkey struggles to pull through after a shaky start to life.

Five Sisters Zoo is the focal point of Thursday’s show, where Melissa the raccoon has her first litter of babies but does not know how to rear them – will her maternal instincts come into effect in time to save her cubs? Suki the ruffed lemur is overdue and the keepers are left guessing as to when her babies will arrive. And Gizmo the skunk surprises everyone with her litter of kittens when she produces a very rare baby.

In the final episode of the series on Friday, a pair of common marmosets are expecting twins at Knowsely Safari Park. However, when triplets arrive, the keepers must step in and take one of the babies away to be hand-reared. And a newborn eland has a dramatic welcome to the world as it is surrounded by a herd of bison.

tell us a bit about the series
“The series goes to various different zoos all over the UK. They had directors with cameras at all these zoos for five weeks recording pregnancies, births, the first few weeks of animals’ lives and anything else to do with mating and having babies. We’ve got a live birth in every programme.”

what is it like to see an animal giving birth?
“I’m always astonished when you see hooved animals –most of them give birth very quickly. I reckon we must have one of the slowest in the programme, which is a tortoise. It takes so long even the baby tortoise falls asleep!”

what do you think we can learn from animals?
“I think things we can learn from animals are childfriendly communities, like meerkats for instance. The whole family gets involved in bringing up a baby meerkat. That’s how we used to be, and we haven’t got community spirit with children any more. And I think it’s something that we’ve lost that we should try and get back.”

what was the cutest baby you came across?
“Without a doubt, the cutest was the aye-aye, which is a type of lemur. It was that and the white lion cub. We had a white lion cub at West Midland Safari Park that was ten weeks old, and they’re just a bundle of fur. I did this piece to camera saying, ‘You are absolutely gorgeous.’ And as I said the word ‘gorgeous’, it turned round, growled at me and nearly bit my nose off!”

were there any other funny moments?
“They had a cockatoo at Cotswold Wildlife Park, and it’s very easy for birds to get imprinted by humans so they think they’re humans rather than birds. So they were feeding this baby cockatoo with an adult cockatoo puppet – which always looks really comical!”

did you witness any heartwarming events?
“The baby rhino was very heartwarming, actually. The keepers, particularly the guy who runs the zoo, he’s watching this white rhino give birth. And he’s completely anxious. These days it’s a very different attitude to baby animals in zoos. Most of the zoos, particularly the ones we filmed with, will only take an animal off a mother if they absolutely have to. Whereas in the old days I think keepers almost hankered after it.”

do you think it’s important for the keepers to keep an emotional distance?
“Yeah, and all the keepers say that. And they say when you have to hand-rear a baby animal you get very close to that animal. But most keepers know that that is an absolute last resort because animals that are hand-reared don’t go back to their group very well.”

you must have jumped at the chance to work with cute baby animals!
“I am such a softie. I’m a typical sort of girl that loves baby animals. I’ve now got my own child who’s three and I’ve become even more maternal, actually. In fact I used to only be maternal towards animals! My human maternal instincts fortunately kicked in!”

have you enjoyed doing a progamme based solely in the United Kingdom?
“Yeah, of course I have. It’s been a very intense time. We started off in Highland Wildlife Park, which is in Inverness, and we travelled all the way down. The furthest south we went was Marwell Zoological Park near Southampton. So it’s been a whirlwind tour.”

what are your plans for the future?
“I’m going to Indonesia in August to do the second series of ‘Orangutan Diary’. We’ve also done another series for Five’s ‘Animal Rescue Squad’. And I continue to do ‘Countryfile’.”

Veteran wildlife presenter Michaela Strachan returns to Five to present a fresh new series that follows breeding programmes in zoos and wildlife parks across the United Kingdom. Filmed over five weeks, the series captures magical moments from mating through to pregnancy, birth and the first few weeks of life.

Michaela’s Zoo Babies travels the length and breadth of the country, from the Scottish Highlands to Southampton, to discover how UK zoos are helping to rear and nurture baby animals, including some rare and endangered species.

Each programme will follow the story of several animal families, each at a different stage of the pregnancy, birthing and parenting cycle.

On Monday, at South Lakes Wild Animal Park in Cumbria, Ntombi the white rhino is pregnant; a keeper stands in as Mum for a rare Indonesian piglet; and there is good news about the future of the reindeer herd.

On Tuesday, Rachel the zebra goes into labour at the West Midland Safari Park; some white lion cubs get up to mischief; and two female sea lions are showing signs of pregnancy.

Wednesday brings a visit to Marwell Zoological Park, where Mary the giraffe is in labour. Over at Chessington Zoo, a mate arrives for the females in the gorilla enclosure – but do the ladies fancy him?

Bristol Zoo is the focal point of Thursday’s show, where a baby gorilla has an emergency check-up and Raz the lemur is weaned onto solids. Later, at Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm, Millie the marmoset delivers triplets.

And Friday’s episode profiles Highland Wildlife Park, where the birth of a rare Przewalski’s horse spells success for the zoo’s breeding programme. Also, the due date of a heavily pregnant Markhor goat-antelope approaches, and a newborn reindeer fights for her life.

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