Love is in the air at Longleat safari park, or so Deputy Head Warden Ian Turner hopes, as a couple of rhinos with a combined weight of over three tons go on a date.
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This is Winston, who at 38 years old is one of the oldest rhinos in the country.
Although it looks as if he is enjoying a quiet life,
the keepers have plans to make him a father for the very first time.
Yes, apparently it is never too late for a rhino to find love.
The keepers have set up a date for him
and we will find out whether romance is in the air on today's programme!
Coming up - will the precious new arrivals break the deadly curse of meerkat mountain?
In pursuit of love - three tonnes of randy rhino go on the rampage.
This might make a few cars move!
And Bev takes her chances with killer snakes and scorpions
as she hunts for the elusive pancake tortoise.
But first, most animals have a one-track mind.
Apart from eating, they generally put a great deal of effort into making babies.
And no-one spends more time thinking about reproduction than Ian Turner, the deputy head warden.
He is desperate to have a baby.
To be precise, a beautiful bouncing baby rhino.
After all, it has now been almost four years since Ian went to
South Africa to fetch their three new rhinos. Unjanu, the male,
and Roseena and Marashi, the females.
They are absolutely gorgeous.
Really good. Better than I thought.
At the time, they were too young to start breeding but Ian had his eyes on the prize from the start.
Two years down the line, we should have two young ones.
There is nothing to say we shouldn't do.
12 months later, Ian hadn't lost his focus.
I am hoping down the line we will have two baby rhinos.
And another year on, he was starting to sound like a broken record.
Hopefully, the young ones will start mating this year
because they have got to the right age and then two years
down the lines, there is no reason why we shouldn't have baby rhinos.
The three youngsters are now old enough to be sexually mature but so far nothing.
So recently, the keepers have been arranging to put Unjanu and Roseena out together,
like on a romantic date, away from the others.
And this morning, Ian's excited.
They haven't actually done anything yet but at least they are getting to know each other a little better.
# How deep is you love
# Is your love... #
They are showing encouraging signs,
playing about and he is getting interested.
# Cos we're living in a world of... #
I would be very surprised if there is not mating this year and disappointed.
This is all good signs, the sword fighting, putting their head on the back and mounting.
That is all good stuff.
# ..to you and me... #
But there is one particular behaviour which usually indicates things are about to get steamy.
It is when they finished the sword fighting and he decides he will run off.
The other starts chasing.
Now, there is over three tonnes of rampant rhino to charging around the park at 30mph.
This could be dangerous.
This might make a few cars move.
# Je t'aime
# Oui, je t'aime
# Moi non plus... #
But a moment later, something goes wrong.
RECORD SCRATCHES AND MUSIC STOPS
Unjanu and Roseena have
abruptly gone off the boil and suddenly got interested in a nice patch of grass.
Could it be they are still too young?
Luckily, this pair isn't the only couple Ian has hope for.
There is also the other young female, ??
and the park's older male, Winston.
MUSIC: Steptoe And Son Theme
He is somewhat elderly but the vet has checked him out and reckons he is up to the job.
So, Ian can still dream.
My biggest wish would be for Winston to mate with one of the females.
That would be my wish list.
If they went berserk, they could have twins. That is a bit of wishful thinking.
In the 31 years I have been here, we've never had twins.
We have had lots of baby rhinos born and they are cute.
It's no wonder Ian is so broody after what happened on his trip to Kenya last year.
He had the chance to get really close to a couple of orphaned baby black rhino. Ian was over the moon.
Thank you very much.
You could see how boisterous they get and when they want food and
it's finished that is when it gets out of hand. Absolutely gorgeous.
So, after that experience, Ian redoubled his efforts to have one of his very own.
Now, he has got the keeper, Kevin, taking samples of
dung in order to figure out when she will be most likely to conceive.
They test for the female hormones
and we get the results back and plot it on a graph.
We are looking for each peak to be 30 - 35 days,
which is when the rhinos come into season.
It takes 35 days to come into the next season.
At the moment, we can see that it is about...
that was about six weeks.
That is a little bit
too long, really.
We need to try and make an average of her cycles and go from
the average and put the bull out with her around that sort of time.
Once they've established the pattern, they will arrange a romantic rendezvous with Winston.
However, in rhino years, Marashi
is a teenager while Winston, let's face it, got his bus pass some time ago.
So will their tryst be a hot date or a damp squib?
We will find out later on.
Unlike the rhino area, pets corner is a prolific place for births.
But one area that hasn't enjoyed much success is the ill-fated meerkat mountain.
Following the much-loved meerkat's progress has often been a tale of
tragedy with the babies dying a few weeks after being born.
Only this year, keeper John Reynolds lost several to
a mysterious disease, leaving a dark cloud hanging over meerkat mountain.
But, things could be looking up.
I'm down at meerkat mountain where there has been some really exciting news. The meerkats have had pups.
So, this is what the meerkats live.
This is their burrow inside the mountain.
-And where are the pups?
-The pups are down here.
Dad is looking after them.
There are some underneath the tubes.
I can see a little tail sticking out. That is dad...
That's dad looking after them. Mum is behind him there.
They are extraordinary.
-Remind me how many pups are there.
-Five pups born about four or five days ago now.
And they are still obviously
in that fragile state where the parents are being protective.
Yeah, they are very protective parents, looking after them and making sure they are all all right.
There is always one babysitting, making sure they are OK.
Every so often she will come over and feed them. The dad is
watching them and making sure none get into trouble.
That extraordinary noise going on, is that because of the pups or are meerkats always vocal like that?
When they are babies they make as much noise as possible.
You will walk in in the morning and know they are born because of the noise.
It's just amazing.
How long will they be suckling, taking milk
-from the mother?
-Probably suckle for about a month and they will wean on solid food.
They will carry on suckling after that but it doesn't take long
after they are weaned until they are fully weaned.
Have they got all the same stripes and colourings as a fully grown meerkat?
No, they're very pale right now.
-It is only when they get
-to nine or ten weeks they get their stripes and markings.
Just extraordinary. It must be really exciting for you to see this addition to your collection.
It really is absolutely incredible for us. It has taken us a long time to get them breeding.
Now they are trying to get their colony up, it is really good for us.
Bearing in mind these pups are just a few days old, how long
before they can venture out into meerkat mountain?
Normally, it will be about three weeks or so, they will come out, not go too far away from the tunnel.
There will be some one watching them, one of the adults to make sure they are all right.
As they get braver and braver they will go further and further out.
It doesn't take much to make them scarper back to the tunnel again.
I bet. Eventually they will have the run of the place and feel very at home.
With these special new births, everyone now has their fingers
crossed that meerkat mountain's run of bad luck may finally be at an end.
The safari park's African connections run deep -
that's where so many of the animals here come from.
In the past, many of the keepers have had the opportunity to travel south to that vast wild continent.
This year, it is the turn of Bev Allen, Michelle Stephens, Ryan Hockley and Keith Harris.
They have flown into the game reserve in Tanzania
to learn more about their animals and help with conservation projects.
In our last programme, we followed the action as
Keith and Ryan joined in an operation to help return a pack of African hunting dogs to the wild.
Now, we are going to catch up with Bev and she is going on a wildlife hunt
but the animal she's after doesn't have big teeth, is unlikely to charge and couldn't outrun anything.
Bev is looking for one of Tanzania's rarest creatures - the pancake tortoise.
Back home, she helps look after four pancake tortoises.
It is a threatened species which has some unusual habits.
Out here, Bev is hoping to discover detailed information about their
native environment in order to improve their Longleat environment.
This is an ideal area you would find a pancake tortoise
because you have these rocks where they would hide in the crevices.
There are lots of different plants as well.
If you feel the rocks, they are quite warm so pancake tortoises need
the heat to survive and keep them going because
the sun will shine on their shell, warms them up and off they go.
You would see them on the stones warming up and when it gets too hot they can go into the holes and
get away from the sunlight and also to get away from predators because it is quite open.
You probably get predators coming up
that may attack them.
They can lock themselves in the crevices where they would be safe.
They expand their shell and with their claws
they hold on inside the crevices so nothing can pull them out.
As a threatened species, pancake tortoises are very rare
but they have been spotted amongst these rocks before.
So, it is worth having a good look.
In our enclosure at Pet's Corner it is a small enclosure.
We are hoping to make it bigger and the greenery and different grasses and plants...
It would be a really good idea if we can get more greenery in there for them, which would be brilliant.
I would like to take some photos I can take back
to Pet's Corner and show Darren and Joe the pictures so we can
get some ideas for our enclosure.
Of course, one of the advantages of a digital camera
is you can send photos by e-mail so in fact the pictures could be back at Pet's Corner long before Bev.
Unfortunately, there is no sign of any tortoises out here today.
On the other hand, there is no sign of anything else.
I was worried putting my hands in the crevices because I hear
there are lots of snakes around and scorpions, which are very nasty.
But I will keep coming out and hopefully might find one, fingers crossed.
We will catch up with Bev later to see if she gets lucky on the great tortoise hunt.
It's been over two decades since they last had a baby rhino at Longleat,
and deputy head warden Ian Turner is getting broody.
And while he's been doing everything possible to get his four white rhino to breed, down at
Paignton Zoo in Devon, they've had a bit more luck with their black rhino.
Recently, 12-year-old female, Sita, had a little daughter, Zuri.
Today, Ian is taking a trip down to Paignton, to meet
their curator of mammals, Neil Bemment, and see if he can pick up a few tips.
Zuri's was the first rhino birth in Britain to be covered by a live webcam.
It several of us to actually stand in an adjacent building and see
what was going on without actually having to be there as she...maybe putting Sita off with our presence.
But things started to go wrong after the birth.
Four hours later, the baby still hadn't been able to get up and suckle from Mum.
For keepers Lucy McKenna and Louise Manning, it was an emotional roller-coaster.
It really was agonising, wasn't it?
One minute we were all happy and the baby was born, and everyone
was cheering and celebrating and the next minute, "Oh, no, what now?"
We were starting to think everyone was getting worried and everyone...
Everyone looking at each other, what shall we do?
You could see her really struggling, but her legs kept slipping away from her all the time.
The keepers had no choice but to go in and help the baby to stand.
Luckily, after that shaky start, everything went well for mother and daughter.
And now Zuri is three months old.
You can see, she's absolutely gorgeous.
All that stress and worry floats to the back of your mind.
She's really sturdy and seems to be going from strength to strength.
Ian is supposed to be here on a fact-finding mission,
but that doesn't mean he can't spend time like everyone else, just doting on the little angel.
They're a massive animal.
They can be quite friendly.
The babies, even though they're that size, they're really, really cute,
but they're just an absolutely marvellous animal.
This just puts it on to the reasons why we want baby rhinos.
Cos you look at that little one, that's everybody's dream, to have
a baby rhino, and hopefully that's what we'll get in 16 months' time.
Of course, that all depends on something special happening back at Longleat.
And now, all the indications are that young Marashi should soon be in the mood for love.
The question is, will dear old Winston be able to cope with a tonne and a half of red hot rhino?
Earlier, Bev Allen went in search of the rare pancake tortoise in their native Tanzania.
Although she didn't find any, she did discover a lot about their environment
and sent the photos back to Longleat for the pancake tortoises there.
I'm up at Pet's Corner with keeper, Jo Hawthorne, and these magnificent tortoises.
They're very beautiful, but they are quite flat, Jo.
They're absolutely stunning, aren't they?
Why are you in there and the tortoise is out here?
-If you turn around now and look at these pictures...
-Oh, wow! This is beautiful.
She sent the an e-mail and she's been out there where these are
-from, and this is the home of these pancake tortoises.
So, I've blown them up and put them...
-So, you're recreating it all here.
Oh, my goodness. That's fantastic!
I'm just finishing putting this up.
This is actually a copy in the background here.
-We've got our own here at Longleat, but obviously not quite the same.
-That's going to look fantastic.
It's made such a difference, you know, and hopefully they'll feel more at home now.
It's raining and cold here in England and I just...
Having this lovely African backdrop! Presumably, it's quite important when you're keeping exotic animals
like this to have as natural an environment for them as possible.
Definitely. It you want them to obviously act, breed naturally, everything you can do, it's not just
the temperature, it's things that would be in their surroundings, so, plants, it just helps...
-Gives the right atmosphere.
-Yes. And the visitors as well, so it's really important.
What about plants and things? What sort of vegetation would they have around?
Mainly, not dissimilar to some of our Mediterranean tortoises, lots of weedy grass, mainly.
These things that you've down here, shall I give you that?
-We have a red baron here.
-That grows really tall, very bushy.
This is the kind of thing you'd actually find up in these kind of altitudes.
Are these as long-lived? Tortoises can live 50, even 100 years.
Obviously, the predation rate of these when they're very small,
they're literally like a 50p piece, it's very high.
Certainly, these have gone for about 25 years.
-Nothing like as long as your other ones.
OK. I'll give you Yuri back.
Let you come out.
-There you go. Shall I put her on there?
-There you are, sweetheart.
There you go, girl.
I'm going to come out and have a look. Final touch.
-Are you ready?!
Jo, it looks brilliant!
Absolutely brilliant! Look at that!
-It's like a little corner of Africa.
-I'm so pleased.
Well done. Thank you very much.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the park, old Winston is about to have
his first date alone with young Marashi.
It's up to keeper, Kevin Knibbs to play Cupid.
He's been monitoring the state of Marashi's hormones and
reckons if she's going to get pregnant, today is the day.
Kevin has let her out in the yard first while Winston is still inside.
She does seem very interested.
We're just introducing Marashi to Winston through the bars,
so that they know who's coming out really, more than anything.
She's in high spirits by the look of it. She's making lots of localisations, which is good.
They're just letting each other know that they're there, really.
She's a little bit anxious because she's out here on her own.
Normally she comes out with the other female.
But today, we need to do it one-on-one,
so she's out here on her own for now, so she's probably a little bit anxious.
And she's wondering what's going on, really.
It looks like Marashi's ready for love, but what about Winston?
At 38 years old, he's a real rhino pensioner,
but the vet has declared him fit for duty,
although in terms of behaviour, anything could happen.
If Winston really was aggressive towards her, he could do a lot of damage. He's a big, massive rhino.
He weighs two-and-a-half tonnes.
She's maybe a tonne and a half, so, he could really do a lot of damage to her.
He could knock her down, and we don't really want that to happen.
If we had to split the rhinos up from fighting, we'd have a couple of people with fire extinguishers
and they let them off, so the noise would distract the rhinos
and then we could move our tractors in between them as a barrier and that should defuse the situation.
The tractors are escorting them down to the park, ready for their big date.
They kept the other rhinos in, so the couple can have a little privacy.
Now to find out, will Marashi fall for the older type?
And will this turn out to be Winston's finest hour?
That's her on the right.
She's flirting, but this isn't good.
In rhino romance, the boy is supposed to start playing rough and acting like the tough guy.
So, maybe Winston just isn't that interested.
Though she's not going to leave him alone.
# What can I do to make you love me?
# To make you love me
# What can I do to make you care?
# To make you care
# What can I say to make you feel this?
# To make you feel this
# What can I do to get you there... #
With Winston, he's not a big rough old brute that we think he is, he's quite a gentle old soul,
and I think he's going to take his time with this.
I think we're putting pressure on the rhinos ourselves, because we want baby rhinos.
But they'll produce them when they're good and ready, really.
We can't influence that very much.
Back in his office, Ian Turner has been reviewing some footage of the
other couple to see if they're any closer to the desired goal.
But no joy yet.
Ian is trying to be patient.
After all, it's still early days.
They're just coming to the right age, so hopefully,
15, 16 months down the line, we could be... the patter of large tiny feet.
So, for now, we'll just have to keep our fingers crossed and wait.
Hopefully, though, it'll won't be too long before Ian's dreams come true.
Back in Tanzania, Bev Allen has been searching high and low
for one of their rarest residents, the pancake tortoise.
She's had no luck, but now on a drive through the bush, she's spotted something else.
I found a tortoise. Our first tortoise in Tanzania.
A leopard tortoise, I do believe.
It's in really good condition, actually, which is brilliant.
I think it could be a female.
The shell underneath, you just have a bit more of a dip.
This is quite straight.
Usually, the females are bigger than the males as well.
We don't have any leopard tortoises at Longleat.
We had pancake tortoises, which we were hoping,
well I was hoping to see one at least here, cos they do come from here,
but it's just brilliant to see one of these.
At least I'd seen a tortoise now, which is great.
I've never seen a tortoise in the wild, only in captivity, back at Pet's Corner, so this is brilliant,
especially when you're just driving along and there it sort of was, walking along the road.
That's brilliant. It's quite a big one, actually.
It's hard to tell an age of a tortoise.
The shell's in very good condition. Some people say, like counting the rings on the shell,
you can tell the age, but it's not actually an accurate way of telling, really.
And of course, this is a perfect area for tortoises to sort of run around,
get away from the predators in the bushes as well,
and as you can see, because it's very warm, quite active as well.
Back at Longleat, some animals that have been around
for centuries are the herds of deer, living in the surrounding parkland.
In recent times, all sorts of other animals have moved in, but the deer are still here.
Kate and I've joined head of section Tim Yeo out in the deer paddock here
with some of these magnificent looking fallows.
They're looking in such good form, Tim, with their antlers, their coats are looking radiant.
That's right, Ben, I mean this really is fallow peak condition time, it really is.
They'll start very shortly to thicken their necks.
They'll put a lot of weight into the neck, in preparation for the rut,
which comes in the autumn, about September or October.
This is quite an unusual sight, I suppose, to see males
in full antler, but actually quite peaceful and not fighting.
Presumably, that all changes once the testosterone levels come up and they start thinking about the girls?
Exactly, Kate, you've got it.
Certainly. As soon as they start to clean their antlers,
there'll be a lot of bickering going on and they will not tolerate this sort of close company here.
What happens? Tell us about what goes on during the rut?
Bucks very close to each other will have rutting stands, dotted around.
-And they will display and will fight off...
-So it's like their own little territories?
-Just like me!
-I was gonna say!
-And they'll be fighting for females,
-they'll be trying to attract females over to them?
They're strutting around, they've already fought in some cases.
Some cases they're just...the mere presence of them is enough to intimidate
a younger animal.
But they'll attract the does and the does will decide who they go to?
They've got the pick of an enormous number of bucks, and they'll walk up to...
I challenge you, Tim, to rut over Kate!
Yes, I think the two of you should take a stand!
Tim, thank you very much indeed. Sadly that's all we have time for on today's programme.
But here's what's coming up on the next Animal Park.
One of Britain's rarest and wisest birds gets in a flap.
Lionesses Jazeera and Malika both need an operation, but getting them on their
own proves a real challenge.
The one we don't want has gone through.
And back in Africa, an orphaned hyena must be drugged in order to return her to the wild.
But then, something goes horribly wrong.
Why isn't she waking up?
Join us when the drama continues on the next Animal Park.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
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Love is in the air at Longleat safari park today, or so Deputy Head Warden Ian Turner hopes, as a couple of rhinos with a combined weight of over three tons go on a date. Meanwhile Kate Humble helps some pancake tortoises feel more at home and Ben Fogle checks on the progress of the Meerkat Mountain babies.