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Amazing Animal Births

  • Episode: 

    1 of 6

  • Transmission (TX): 

    Mon 12 Jun 2017
  • TX Confirmed: 

  • Time: 

    8.00pm - 8.30pm
  • Week: 

    Week 24 2017 : Sat 10 Jun - Fri 16 Jun
  • Channel: 

  • Status: 

Amazing Animal Births
The information contained herein is embargoed from press use, commercial and non-commercial reproduction and sharing into the public domain until Tuesday 30 May 2017.
In this new six-part series, zoologist Lucy Cooke will be witnessing the miracle of life as she sees first-hand the incredible bond between a mother and her offspring - that extraordinary moment when a little baby comes into a huge world.
From alligators, alpacas and gorillas, to guinea pigs, tapirs and lions, Lucy will be there as these animal babies embark on their amazing new adventures.
In episode one, Lucy is at a birth with more drama than she bargained for, and also witnesses the moment a rare baby rhino enters the world.
She starts her journey at the time of year when nature welcomes in millions of babies: spring, and her adventure begins high up in the hills of the Yorkshire Dales, where baby lambs are leaping into life. 
Lucy says: “If there is one animal that is part of my family history, it’s the sheep, because my granddad and his father were both shepherds, and they must have delivered hundreds of lambs. So the perfect place for me to start my animal birth adventure is to find out if lambing is in my blood.”
Here, Lucy meets ups with shepherdess Amanda Owen, who runs the highest hill farm in the Yorkshire Dales, along with her husband Clive. They have over a thousand sheep that lamb on some of the toughest terrain in Britain.
Lots of Amanda’s flock are a hardy breed called Swaledales, and with thick coats, the female ewes make excellent mothers and are known for being able to rear lambs well, even in the harsh conditions of the Dales.
Amanda explains to Lucy how, with so many sheep, they can spot the pregnant ones: “When we put the tups out with the ewes, we put a colour on his brisket, so when he mates with them he leaves a colour on the ewe.” 
Some of the last of Amanda’s pregnant mums are up on the highest part of the farm, and when Clive starts to think one of the mums is acting suspiciously, he moves her nearer to the farm.  
After five months of being pregnant, this particular sheep is well into labour, but she doesn’t seem to be dilating enough to deliver the lamb.
Amanda says: “Honestly, in the time she’s taking to have this lamb, I would have, like, had the baby, probably gone and got the coal bucket, put my lipstick on and be carrying on again.”
As more time passes, Lucy says: “It’s like something’s going wrong, she’s pushing and pushing and pushing, but nothing is coming out. Come on girl.”
After the lamb finally appears, and mum cleans off her new baby, Lucy says: “That was just the most amazing feeling, I feel suddenly totally emotional, totally overwhelmed by the experience. It was so dramatic and then just this life appears. In fact my hands are shaking because that was really emotional.”
For the second amazing animal birth, Lucy visits Howletts Wild Animal Park in Kent, part of the animal conservation charity, The Aspinall Foundation.
Here, they are committed to breeding and reintroducing rare and endangered species back into the wild.
Lucy says: “Every animal birth is special, it's a new life and a new addition to the species, but when the expectant mum is a critically endangered breed, then the pregnancy takes on an even greater significance.”
One animal that Howletts have so far not been able to breed is the black rhino, so they are hoping that Damara will have their first ever, successful rhino pregnancy. Given there are only around 2500 black rhino left in the wild, this birth is really important.   
Despite weighing close to a ton, Damara is particularly sensitive, and the team looking after her won’t be able to go anywhere near her when she’s in labour, and distressing her could see her miscarry or cause damage to her baby once delivered.
Over the next two weeks, the team monitor Damara as she gets closer to giving birth, and eventually, as Damara becomes agitated, it sounds like her labour has begun. Though as a first time mum, there’s no way of knowing how well she will handle giving birth.
Three hours later, and Lucy gets the first sight of the baby’s head emerging. The calf is coming out the correct way and it’s a very good sign that Damara will be able to deliver naturally. Instinctively Damara breaks the sack and her baby can take its first breath.
Lucy says: “Damara’s calm and attentive…just 43-minutes after birth, our calf, a baby boy, is taking his first tentative steps. By first light, Damara is proving to be a natural at feeding.”
The rhino baby won't be fully grown until he’s around 15-years-old, then he’ll be ready to fend for himself and take charge of his territory. And one day it may be possible for him to return to the wild and help preserve this incredible species.