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Baby season comes to zoo
29 September 2010

Some 71 babies have been born at the Johannesburg Zoo this year already, with more than 20 born in the last two months alone.

MALEMA, the Cape buffalo, looking very cute, sits suckling its mother, occasionally kicking its hind legs in utter enjoyment.


Malema tries out some teff closely watched by his mother
Malema tries out some teff closely watched by his mother


Malema, which weighs 50 kilograms, is one of a host of new babies born in a matter of two months at the Johannesburg Zoo. It is expected to suckle until it is three months old. Then the little calf’s diet will expand to include lucerne, boskos and teff, which is what the rest of the herd eat.

In July and August, 21 babies were born at the zoo, bringing the number of babies this year to 71.

The latest births include Cape buffalo, sitatunga, porcupine, blue duiker, nyala, Bapedi sheep, marabou stork, spotted deer, bushbuck, pygmy goat, scimitar-horned oryx, Barbary sheep and Nguni cow.

Alice Masombuka, a zoo keeper, explains: “We have had a very productive breeding season this year and we hope for more before the end of the year.”

Malema was born on 4 July at night and found the next day by the keepers. “Malema is named after the ANC Youth League president,” she explains.

“The herd always groups together when you enter their enclosure as they believe in safety in numbers … Buffalos, similar to the rest of the big five, are threatened by poaching and as a result the population is declining.”


The herd of Bapedi sheep is also expanding with new borns
The herd of Bapedi sheep is also expanding with new borns


An Nguni calf was born in July, and was named Evans after its attendant. “The calf was named after its attendant, Evans Hlongwane, who was pregnant [at the time]. The cow was overdue until she also went on leave to have her baby, so it was named after her.”

Three male sitatunga calves were born on 14 August. A sitatunga birth is not only significant to the zoo, but also to the greater conservation fraternity. This is because they are endangered and there are very few in the wild. The zoo has a sizeable herd of 22.

Similar to other buck, a sitatunga has impressive survival skills and a calf can stand and even start running immediately after birth. They are semi-aquatic and need to spend a fair amount of time in the water or their hoofs crack.

“On 10 August we also welcomed the birth of a female scimitar-horned oryx, taking the number of the herd to 13,” Masombuka says.

Scimitar-horned oryx are semi-desert animals that use their horns to dig for water. The newborn will feed on milk until it is four months old, after which it will switch to lucerne and pellets.

Other notable births include three sets of twins of Cameroon pygmy goats, the smallest antelope in southern Africa; a blue duiker; and two Bapedi sheep.

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Last Updated on 04 October 2010