Starts Wednesday 10 July at 8pm on ITV
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“It’s not enough just to be passionate about animals and to love them. You’ve actually got to almost look inside their head. Anyone can dominate an animal through a cage but getting an animal to co-operate is extremely rewarding.” - ZSL London Zoo senior keeper Tony Cholerton.
This three-part factual series for ITV give viewers exclusive and compelling behind-the-scenes access to the lives of the animals and staff at ZSL London Zoo. Produced by Wild Pictures, the series offers a privileged and unique insight into the at times emotionally intense stories of keepers and their 20,000 charges at one of the world’s oldest zoos at its base in Regent’s Park and country estate at Whipsnade.
In this third series, the zoo unveils its new £4 million tiger exhibit in London, and the pressure is on for keepers to get its endangered inhabitants, Sumatran tigers Jae Jae and Melati, to mate as well as to settle them in ahead of the Royal opening by the Duke of Edinburgh.
The arrival of a new testosterone-filled male gorilla provides a challenge for mammal keeper Daniel Simmonds, who gave up a well-paid job in the city to work with the animals he loves. Seven-foot silverback Kumbuka has been brought in to breed with the three females at the zoo. A tender relationship between Kumbuka and female Mujuku soon develops.
“It’s a massive privilege to sit and watch a bond like this occurring,” says Dan.
“Hopefully we should have babies.”
At Whipsnade, elephant keeper Stefan Groeneveld has a supreme passion for elephants - he’s dreamed of working with them since he was a boy, and says: “I’m very lucky because this is more like a hobby than actually a job. And we get paid for it!”
Bird keeper Jamie Graham reveals the reality of looking after penguins: “People think they’re cute and cuddly but they can be quite evil and they fight a lot.”
Meanwhile, two cardiologists are brought in to perform ground-breaking surgery on some of the zoo’s most dangerous animals - the chimpanzees. As spring arrives the thoughts of keepers turn to the important business of mating amongst their animals – which is particularly crucial when involving the endangered species kept at the zoo. But sometimes it's no easy task, says mammal keeper Dan, of the gorillas: “Kumbuka's actually a virgin. Until 3 weeks ago he'd never seen a female gorilla, so he's got a lot to learn.”
In the first episode, there are tense moments as the zoo’s new young critically-endangered Sumatran tigers - male Jae Jae and female Melati - are introduced to each other for the first time. The zoo’s staff hope their first meeting will go well, and that it will eventually lead to cubs. But sometimes during introductions tigers can kill each other, says big cat keeper Paul Kybett: “Part of me is excited about what might happen but most of me is very nervous of what might happen. The thing with cats is you can’t just step in and stop them fighting if it gets too bad. There‘s no reason it should be a bloodbath or anything like that but you’re always nervous that that could happen.”
There’s a Royal visit when Prince Philip opens the zoo’s new £4 million Tiger Territory enclosure. But behind the scenes, staff are forced to act fast when the tigers start fighting, and keeper Daniel Simmonds explains how they have to separate them before the assembled press and dignitaries witness a potential attack by Jae Jae: “Word got out in tiger language that the Royals are in so he thought, ‘I know, I’ll be naughty.’ He’s fine, but basically Jae hasn’t been with Melati for a little bit, so he’s a little bit overexcited, but she’s not up for his kind of silly games.”
Keeper Tony Cholerton, whose good relationship with Jae Jae is described as a ‘new bro-mance’ by Dan, has high hopes for the pitter-patter of tiny tiger paws: “We haven’t had a tiger cub here since I was a summer temp 17 years ago. It’s been a long, long time so we’re really looking forward to these two giving a couple of tiger cubs.”
At Whipsnade, veterinary nurse Jo Dodds is training Nicky, an adult male chimpanzee, ahead of a major medical operation. She’s teaching him to present different parts of his body on cue in return for rewards, and as a result she’s hoping he’ll receive his anaesthetic by injection rather than the more stressful option of having to dart him. Two human heart specialists are brought in to insert a monitor into Nicky’s back, so Jo can download information on his heart rate. But she explains the operation is not without a degree of risk: “We’re knocking out an animal that is very well loved by the keepers so it carries a degree of anticipation and nervousness because it’s a big procedure and they’re very dangerous animals.”
Meanwhile, head of birds Adrian Walls greets eight new Humboldt penguins, who are endangered in the wild. He hopes they might find a mate at the zoo’s Penguin Beach - which allows him to reflect on his recent marriage: “It is quite nice to say wife - it means something special. You know relating it back to birds; they get bonded pairs with each other and they rely on when they’ve gone to get their fish they’re going to come back and their partner is going to be sat on the nest looking after the chicks, and going to be able to defend the nest along with them. So it’s very important to have that family bond, to have someone to return to.”
Also featured in the first episode are vet Tai Strike dealing with a Burmese python with a blocked nose; feeding time for sleepy sloths Marilyn and Leander; a veterinary visit for a young slender loris monkey; a contraceptive implant for Amy the armadillo; walkabout time for Perry the llama and a pair of stubborn camels; a white fly invasion at Butterfly Paradise; an ultrasound scan with good news for giant Galapagos tortoise Dolly and maintenance to the squirrel monkey enclosure - where the notoriously light fingered primates have a reputation for relieving visitors of their possessions, says keeper Kate Sanders: “Phones are probably more the culprit these days - they are not that strong these guys, they are very small. So small things are easy for them to carry off. We haven’t got any reports back of expensive international calls being made from them.”