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Numbering the beasts sends zoo staff wild...

Byline: Mike Lockley Staff Reporter mike.lockley@trinitymirror.com

YOU can count on the critters at Dudley Zoo.

And that's exactly what staff have done during their mammoth annual census.

But with more than 1,300 animals and 200 species the startof-the year event can cause chaos for keepers.

Totting up lions, tigers and giraffes takes minutes - but 60-plus penguins, 30 free-roaming lemurs and hundreds of very sticky stick insects prove more of a challenge for staff.

Throughout the coming weeks, keepers on every section will be taking stock of each animal across the 40-acre site. It's part of an annual audit completed by all UK zoos and wildlife parks as a requirement of the Zoo Licensing Act.

Dudley Zoo CEO Peter Suddock said: "Data keeping is so much easier than it used to be when we relied solely on paper records and is now a part of a zoo registrar's weekly tasks. Records are updated from information provided by the keepers who are very familiar with their stock as they work on that section every day.

"The census is really just a confirmation exercise and provides a round-up of the yearend, but it always poses a few problems when it comes to stick insects. Not only do they move around as staff are attempting to count them, but they also have a camouflage habit of clinging to keepers' clothing - usually just out of reach on backs and shoulders. We are home to the UK's largest colony of parent-reared Humboldt penguins and with 66 constantly moving birds sharing the pool and beach, the annual head-count can take time.

"Tortoises are another diffi-cult species as our seven-strong group of African spur-thigheds are all roughly the same age, thus the same size, so we really struggle to tell individuals apart. A hand-held scanner proves useful as we can identify each animal by their microchip." He added: "The census is an important requirement of the Zoo Licensing Act and can take quite a time to complete, particularly on the invertebrates and amphibian sections, but there's a great sense of achievement when it's done for another year."

This year's count-in has been boosted by the arrival of one of the world's rarest species, a male Sumatran tiger, Joao, plus a baby boom of Barbary sheep and reindeer.

CAPTION(S):

Head of Lower Primates Nicola Wright with Gelada Baboons; and, right, trainee keeper Shaun Crompton starts counting the Spider Monkeys
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Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Date:Jan 2, 2014
Words:405
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