|Head Keeper Mike Downman tagging a Lechwe calf|
Just like agricultural animals, zoo animals have to be identifiable. One method of identifying an animal is by tagging them with a brightly coloured ear tag. This is especially good for animals such as the Lechwe as they can easily be seen from a distance.
We've added a video which you can watch below to see the process. It is a very quick and painless procedure and also gives us an opportunity to give the calf a health check and determine its sex.
For safety reasons the Lechwe calf is first separated from its mother. You can hear it calling to her through the procedure, which only takes around 3 minutes so they aren't apart for long. The calf's natural response is to lay low, hoping to avoid being seen by any potential predators. This allows us to capture him very easily as he makes to attempt to avoid being captured. Their mothers will often leave them for hours, they lie in the overgrowth, hiding from predators, as it would be too dangerous for them to wander around in the open. At 10 days old they tend to join the main herd in the open when they are less vulnerable.
After we've caught him, and you need at least 2 people to do this, one will hold him while the tag is prepared by the other. In the video's case Curator Colin Northcott has this task. The tag itself is a two sided soft disc containing a unique number. Like an earring it has a pin on one side and a catch on the other and clicks shut when they come together. One in it won't fall out.
In the video you can see Colin checking the ear before inserting the tag. This is essential because the ear has 3 veins running through it which have to be avoided. Once happy at the location he quickly and firmly squeezes the applicator together. The animal is so young that he doesn't feel anything. The other ear is then done as a back-up in case at some pint the animal loses one. It might look large to you at this point, but as the animal grows it looks much more in proportion.
The ears are checked for bleeding, then the animals is given a quick check and is sexed and it's time to release him to re-join mum. 3 minutes and all done.