Sunday, 27 January 2013

Baby Luta, Lives up to His Name

Luta required round-the-clock attention
There are some dates that stay with you forever, and April 5th 2012 is one date that Dartmoor Zoo staff will always remember fondly.  It was the day that Luta was born.

Luta, or Lutador to give him his full name, is a Brazilian Tapir. Brazilian Tapirs, despite their name, are found throughout South America, from northern Argentina up to Venezuela. They belong to a group of animals known as “odd toed ungulates,” a group that also includes horses and rhinos.

They feed on fruits, leaves and other plant material that occur in their tropical forest homes. Luta is the first Tapir to be born and raised at DZP, and as tapirs have a thirteen month pregnancy we had a long time to wait for his arrival.

When he eventually arrived it was a moment of joy, followed by worry and concern. We caught the moment he was born on CCTV which showed that he had a breech birth, coming out back end first. He was unable to stand and extremely weak. As a consequence he was unable to follow mum, Chana and therefore not unable to suckle.

After much deliberation we decided to take him away from his mum for hand-rearing. Every member of Animal Department helped out with this, committing to a grueling schedule of round-the-clock feeding and attention.

With each feeding we paid close attention to his condition looking for the tiniest sign of improvement or regression. He took to feeding from a bottle very easily. Every day he showed signs of regaining his strength, and crucially, the use of his back legs. He was a true fighter.

Reintroducing Luta to mum, Chana was a tense moment
Although he was out of the woods, we still had a way to go. Our biggest worry was that Luta would become imprinted on us. The earliest days are crucial to the bonding process, and spending all that time with the keepers taking care of his basic needs there was a danger that he might not realise he was in fact a tapir. To avoid this, throughout the separation period we would swap bedding between Luta and his mum so that each would be properly familiar with the other’s scent. This strategy worked really well, for when Luta was reintroduced to his mother after two weeks they both took to each other very quickly.

Initially the introductions were only for an hour, and always supervised by keepers. The supervision was not because we expected any trouble, but more because tapirs, although very gentle giants, can be a little clumsy, and it is not unknown for adults to accidentally crush babies by rolling over onto them.  

Encouraged by the behaviour of both animals we steadily progressed to “sleepovers,” whereby the new family would be left together overnight unsupervised, and within a very short time we felt confident enough to leave him with his parents permanently.

Our little boy had grown up!

Baby Luta under the watchful eye of mum on his first swim
Since that time Luta has grown into a healthy, active, inquisitive creature who doesn’t show any signs of the trauma of his early days. He can often be seen enjoying the full run of our large South American paddock which he shares with mum and dad, rhea, capybara and an assortment of ducks. He’s a firm favourite with staff and visitors alike.

We are all immensely proud of him and his fighting spirit. He took everything in his stride, and overcame all the obstacles he faced with sheer determination.  His name, Lutador, is a reflection of that; in Portuguese it means, “fighter,” and it suits him well.

Mike Downman
Head Keeper

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