Time to count the animals at the Zoo

Today is the day of the yearly animal count at Bristol Zoo Gardens.

From early morning keepers have been out armed with clipboards, tablets and spreadsheets checking the numbers of the animals right across the 12-acre site.

 During the day every animal in the Zoo from the smallest ant to the largest gorilla will be counted to make sure their numbers tally with our records.

 The animal ‘census’ is carried out ready for the start of each new year and takes most of the day as there are around 10,000 animals in the Zoo.

 They include many endangered species for which the population in zoos is crucial to their survival.

 Some animals are easier to count than others, including the endangered golden poison arrow frogs – of which the Zoo is home to four.

 These toxic creatures are the most poisonous frogs in the world, and just one individual contains sufficient poison in its skin to kill at least 20 adult humans.

 Other species prove to be more of a challenge to count, due to their size and the quantity of them, including the Zoo’s colony of leafcutter ants. The insects are some of the strongest and hardest working animals in the Zoo.

 Carmen Solan, senior invertebrate keeper at Bristol Zoo Gardens, said: “Our leafcutter ants may be tiny but they are absolutely fascinating. Each ant has its own place in the colony – the queen rules the roost and can produce up to 150 million offspring in her lifetime.

 “Among the workers, there are gardeners tending to the fungus, soldiers defending the nest and foragers hustling to find, cut and transport the best leaves.

 “Each ant can carry a load more than 20 times heavier than itself – the equivalent of a human carrying five adult male grizzly bears.”

 Today’s count also includes the Zoo’s flock of black-cheeked lovebirds, which are some of the noisiest creatures at the attraction. 2019 was one of the Zoo’s most successful breeding years for the dazzling birds with the arrival of 30 chicks, making Bristol Zoo’s flock of 95 individuals one of the biggest in Europe.

 John Partridge, senior curator of animals at Bristol Zoo Gardens, said: “Counting the animals is an important task because it acts as an audit to check that our records are accurate.

 “We have precise information on individual animals and groups, which we share with colleagues around the world to help care for the animals.”

 A similar count is taking place at Bristol Zoo’s sister site Wild Place Project just off junction 17 of the M5.

 There, too, keepers are spending the day counting everything from European brown bears and tiny dik-diks to the flock of black-headed village weaver birds.

Nigel Simpson, head of operations at Wild Place Project, said: “It means we can begin 2020 with a completely accurate record of all the animals here.”

For licensing purposes the data from the census will be sent to Bristol City Council and the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA), the national professional body offering advice and guidance on all aspects of zoo management, of which the Zoo is a member. Wild Place Project will submit its census results to South Gloucestershire Council. 

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