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Belfast Zoo staff get down to the painstaking task of counting the animals

The big freeze may have forced Belfast Zoo to close its gates last week but its keepers weren’t putting their feet up.

Instead they have been scouring the enclosures armed with clipboards as they undertake the tricky task of stocktaking all the animals in the zoo.

That might seem like a simple request when it comes to tracking down the grand old lady elephants, but the bustling colony of prairie dogs is another matter entirely.

The painstaking task is done every January, giving the zoo an accurate record of every animal birth, death, arrival and departure.

Data is stored in a central zoo database called ISIS, linking Belfast Zoo’s animals with more than 825 other zoos in 76 countries around the world.

More than 140 different species — including Western lowland gorillas and Sumatran tigers — will come under the scrutiny of the counters.

A host of new arrivals includes two baby kangaroos, a Grant’s zebra, a Malayan tapir, Californian sea-lions, a miniature donkey, penguins and three meerkats — all born on Cavehill in 2009.

The 140 species of animals cared for by the zoo includes 60 mammal species, 62 species of birds, and 18 species of reptile or amphibian.

So far, the keepers have completed their count for the Asian elephants — all present and correct with a tally of four.

They have discovered they have 11 meerkats, none of which have been lured away to TV careers, 32 penguins, 10 sea lions, six Western lowland gorillas, five giraffes, eight red kangaroos, five Moloch gibbons, four Barbary lions, one Sumatran tiger and three Malayan tapirs.

Last year, there were 66 arrivals from other zoos in the world including three elephants, a giant anteater, hornbills, a tree kangaroo and Kabus the Sumatran tiger.

Fifty-nine animals from Belfast Zoo were sent to other zoos and wildlife centres, such as Lily the Barbary lion who moved to Hodonin Zoo in the Czech Republic.

Other animals have been transported as far away as South Africa and China.

Zoo manager Mark Challis said: “January is a busy time of year for many zoos across the UK because the annual stocktake is such a big job.

“The information we get from this exercise is a great way to ensure the accuracy of our records. It’s important that zoos ensure their figures are correct so they can best manage their animal population.

“When zoos submit data to organisations such as the British and Irish Association for Zoos and Aquaria, it means that we can run detailed and scientifically-based breeding programmes to safeguard valuable species.”

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