Episode 9 Animal Park


Episode 9

The Longleat keepers' worst fears are realised when an animal escapes. Ben Fogle and Kate Humble are there as the situation unfolds. Plus, babies are imminent at meerkat mountain.


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Transcript


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The meerkats are some of the most popular animals here at Longleat,

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but following their story has been a heartbreaking experience.

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There have been many glorious births but also tragically many deaths here at Meerkat Mountain.

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Everyone has their fingers crossed as their journey continues today.

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Coming up on today's Animal Park,

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head of section Mark Tye is feeling the pressure of 900 mouths that need feeding.

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Animals don't wait for anybody.

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They expect their food on time, at the right time and in the right way.

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And just when there's cause for celebration, tragedy strikes Meerkat Mountain.

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But first, it's straight down to the new area, where an unbelievable scene is about to unfold.

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Right now, the whole safari park has just gone on to red alert.

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One of their animals is on the loose and of course, an escape is the keeper's worst nightmare.

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Kate and I have just rushed down because we've had an urgent message from deputy head warden Ian Turner

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that Darcy the bongo has escaped from his enclosure.

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He crossed, remarkably, a cattle grid and he's now between the entrance to the park

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and the main entrance, where the cars come in to the safari park.

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There's a tiger enclosure just down there with the tigers out, so what the keepers are now trying to do,

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you can see that people are standing around here, they're trying to shut the tigers back into their house

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so that they can drive Darcy down this safe route here and back into the park, not over a cattle grid.

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If he crosses a cattle grid again he could break a leg,

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so it's a very delicate, very calm operation,

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although it doesn't feel very calm sitting here at the moment.

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The tigers must be driven out of their enclosure and down into their house.

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Not because they could get at Darcy, but because there's a chance HE might see THEM through the fence.

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And if he did, who knows where he'd be when he eventually stopped running?

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-Tigers in.

-Oh, that's tigers in. OK.

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The tigers are in, we've just heard Ian on the radio.

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Kevin is out with Darcy now. What's the plan?

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I think it's just changed.

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We're going to try and walk her through this wooded bit

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and then take the fence down the other side.

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He's just got a bucket of food there.

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-The problem of course as well is the safari park is still open so we've got cars coming through.

-Absolutely.

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It looks like Kevin isn't having a great deal of luck with his bananas.

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It would work with most animals.

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I don't know what plan that was, whether it was A, B, C or D.

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So he'll happily cross cattle grids but he won't go on tarmac.

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He won't go on tarmac.

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Even though he's walked across it once, if anything spooks him,

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because they're very easily spooked, he just takes off - it's a broken leg.

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It's extraordinary that he managed to cross it at all.

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I mean, they're lethal things, even for us to try and cross one.

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The next plan of action is they're going to try

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and slowly walk it towards the car because it's so quiet.

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They're hoping that it'll just walk across nice and peacefully.

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They've just got to watch the vehicles so they don't get spooked.

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Crossing the road near the gate means Kevin can use the fence to help block Darcy from turning away.

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But it does mean taking him perilously close to that cattle grid.

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It's a very tense moment and we'll be back shortly to see what happens.

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Meerkat Mountain is one of the most dangerous places in the park.

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The collective name for a gang of meerkats is a mob,

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which is quite appropriate after all the violence and tragedy that's happened here in recent times.

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-Hi, guys.

-Darren Beasley is the keeper in charge.

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His mission has always been to get them to breed, but before that could ever happen,

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the mob had to become a settled and stable family group.

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We've been trying to get the meerkat balance right

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and it's been a real trial for all the keepers down here.

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We brought in some new blood.

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We brought some from two collections, some girls and a single boy, a breeding male.

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And it was a nightmare. There was fighting, there was squabbling.

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In the end, I'm afraid, very sadly there was a murder.

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There was a fatality and they fought so bad that they killed each other.

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Meerkats come from the barren deserts of southern Africa,

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a landscape so harsh that the only rule is kill or be killed.

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But after that murder, the mob did settle down.

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An alpha male and female emerged as leaders and finally they began to breed.

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Three pups from their first litter have survived and are now four months old.

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It's taken years and tears and heartache along the way, but we're there.

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Once there's an established alpha couple, there's no reason why they shouldn't just keep breeding.

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A mob can easily have over 30 family members

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but at Meerkat Mountain, it seems that tragedy is never far away.

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When the next litter came, there were two pups,

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but one soon died and the other was abandoned by her parents.

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So keeper John Reynolds took on the labour intensive and emotionally charged task of hand rearing.

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He looked after the baby for five weeks and then the time came to try to reintegrate her into the mob.

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I think she's ready to go back in with them now.

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She's old enough now, she's strong enough, she's healthy enough,

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she really needs to be back with her own kind. It's good for her.

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I can't teach her to dig in the ground, I can't teach her how to stand up on two legs,

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I can't teach her how to be a meerkat.

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Don't need that any more.

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This is the moment of truth.

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Will the mob accept the baby back or kill her as an intruder?

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So far, this is looking good.

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I'm thrilled what's happened here. It's gone better than I imagined.

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They've taken to her like she was never gone.

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It really is absolutely incredible.

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But sadly, this early success was short-lived.

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Nobody knows why or how it happened,

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but a few days later, John's little baby was found dead.

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But this wasn't the last drama on Meerkat Mountain, because the alpha female is now pregnant again

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and we'll be back soon to see what happens when the next litter of pups comes along.

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Back at the bongo breakout, everyone's being quiet and gentle

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so that Darcy won't get spooked and charge off.

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The keepers are concerned not just because he weighs more than two sumo wrestlers

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and has pointy horns over half a metre long,

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but also if he tried to run over the cattle grid, he'd almost certainly break a leg.

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Well, it looks like the keepers have now successfully got Darcy the bongo

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to the other side of the road and they've now got one of the workmen

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to start taking down part of the fence so that they can then persuade him

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to go through the woods and back in on the other side.

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The park's head warden Keith Harris has rushed down to deal with the emergency.

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So, Keith, this is proving to be much more complicated

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than actually it first looked. What's happening now?

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The way we wanted to go through the undergrowth is very, very thick,

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so he keeps looking to come back the easy way.

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So we're just going to alter some more fencing, take a bit more fencing and then we can bring him out,

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take him through a fence in the corner and then back out the fence the other side.

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So essentially you're going to weave him back out here, back over and then out on the other side.

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-That's it.

-Easier said than done.

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At the moment, as I say, he's being quiet

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-and we don't mind if it takes an hour, if it takes two, it takes two.

-It's just about patience.

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We've got the rest of the day, to be honest. Because he's not upset,

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He'll probably go down and fill his belly, anyway.

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It's action stations still.

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The fence is being brought down, but the truth is the bongo

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is still on the loose and it could run across the cattle grid at any time.

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We'll keep you updated with the progress a little bit later.

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Whether there's a bongo on the loose or monkeys making mischief,

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keeping the safari park running smoothly seven days a week,

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52 weeks a year is a massive logistical operation.

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There are over 100 members of staff responsible for everything

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from caring for the animals to maintaining the grounds.

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But of all the jobs, one of the most important is just keeping the animals well-fed.

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With 900 animals in the park, there's a lot of mouths to feed,

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about 90 species. It's a big operation.

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Mark Tye is the keeper in charge of looking after

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all the lake animals, but he's also responsible for supplying food to the entire safari park.

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We have to make sure it's all done and ordered and delivered on time.

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Animals don't wait for anybody. They expect their food on time, at the right time

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and in the right way,

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so we just have to make sure that we're all on the ball and we all get it sorted every day.

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Hardly a day goes by without a food delivery of some sort.

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With so many different species, each with their own dietary requirement,

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lake animals keeper Michelle Stevens also has a lot on her plate.

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This is the feed store. This is where it all happens.

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This is where we make all feed up for the whole safari park and we distribute it out to everyone.

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It's important to keep the pantry organised.

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Dog biscuits and whole maize, which are given to the monkeys.

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Bran, in this one, which is given to the giraffe.

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We've got some primate pellets. This is very good specialist diet for the monkeys and our gorilla as well.

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This is something called cattle crunch, what some of the hoof stock have as well.

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This is the fruit and vegetables.

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The monkeys in particular are obviously big fruit eaters.

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We get a lot of boxes of apples and oranges a year just for those alone.

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In this bin here, we've got the flamingo food.

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Specialist diet for the flamingos. It's got a colouring agent

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in it which keeps the flamingos nice and pink.

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In the wild, flamingos go pink because

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of a natural substance in their food, but here they need that supplement.

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These are linseed lozenges. This is what we give to the giraffe.

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This is a supplementary diet.

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We have chinchilla pellets.

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The other major thing is the fish delivery,

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which is important to me for my animals, the sea lions and pelicans.

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We get this every six to eight weeks.

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It's a fair amount. It keeps us going for a little while.

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Also here, I've got some salt licks and some copper licks.

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This is given to the hoof stock, just a bit of a vitamin boost for them really.

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We've actually got large mixed nuts, things like walnuts.

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The parrots absolutely love these in Pets Corner. It's a treat they get.

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And that's basically the whole feed room.

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Every year between them, the animals consume 44 tons of meat...

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..13 tons of fish...

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..42 tons of high-fibre food,

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8,000 bales of hay, 3,600 apples, 29,000 oranges,

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23,000 bananas, 21,000 cabbages and 1,500 lettuces

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plus a whole host of other fruit, vegetables, nuts, maize, bran, corn, biscuits

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and some very juicy bugs.

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First thing every morning, Mark loads up his van and heads off round the park.

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All the sections are keen that they get their food as early as they can,

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so obviously we've got to get in early and get it all delivered as quick as possible.

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-Anything else you need?

-That's all.

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That's all, all right. Cheers, then.

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People expect their food to arrive every morning

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and sometimes they don't appreciate what it takes to get it there.

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There's a lot of work that goes into making sure all this food is delivered on time.

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It's quite a big job really to make sure that we don't forget anything,

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because if we do then it's on our heads be it, you know.

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We'll be back with Mark and Michelle later

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to discover who's the greediest feeder

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and to find out some of the strange things that animals eat.

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Back up in the park, the operation to rescue Darcy the escaped bongo has reached a critical stage.

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We've been allowed out of the Land Rover,

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although Keith has given us specific instructions

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that if anything goes wrong, we've got to head straight back.

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Just in front of this Land Rover here, you can see that Kevin Bibbs, the deputy head of section

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who looks after the bongos,

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is managing to lead Darcy through the gap that they've opened up in the fence.

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This is the crucial point now.

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If they can get him through here,

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he's almost back in the enclosure where he belongs.

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But most importantly,

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they won't need to worry about him bolting over the cattle grid.

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Go on, Darcy.

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It's really nerve-racking, isn't it?

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Once they've got him through on that side,

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they then have to attract him back out on the other side.

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There he goes, he's through the gap.

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And now he'll come through

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back into the enclosure. Keith, that seemed like a great success.

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What can you do about this?

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This is an animal that clearly hasn't bonded with the other three bongos

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and he seems to be able to get over cattle grids -

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your main device for keeping the hoofed animals in the park.

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-You're going to have to come up with a plan, aren't you?

-We are.

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With him bonding, things like that take time and bongos in the wild

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are quite solitary so it's not unusual that they walk off on their own.

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But he's back out almost safely away now

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and you just have a bit of fencing to repair and a bit of a mystery to solve as to how he got out.

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Seriously, we'll put all the fencing back, get everything sorted out.

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We'll slowly feed him on down to the house.

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He's undamaged. He's not hurt, so that's the main thing. His health is good.

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He's quite relaxed, the boys are feeding him and pushing him on home.

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It may look easy, but it's not.

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It's a little bit more awkward than what people think.

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Everybody has done what they should do.

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A well-oiled machine.

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-That's it, yes.

-Brilliant, Keith. Thank you very much indeed.

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We're going to let Darcy get settled and we'll catch up with him a little bit later in the programme.

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It's not obvious, but Meerkat Mountain is hollow.

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Underneath is the mob's indoor pen.

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This is where the pregnant alpha female has been hiding out and the keeper in charge, Darren Beasley,

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-has just made a rather exciting discovery.

-Can you hear the noise?

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One, two, three, four, five.

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Five brand-new babies and Mum has been brilliant.

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She's been nursing them so they've had their colostrum, they've had their first milk.

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Hopefully this is going to boost our numbers again.

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That's what we want. We'll leave them in peace now.

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In the wild, it would be very unusual for all five to survive.

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We always have this problem with any baby animal.

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We get all excited on day one,

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but it's just the beginning of Mum and Dad's real hard work,

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so the thing with the meerkats if they get it right like we know these guys can,

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is that the older brothers and sisters will help out, but in warm weather,

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they'll be out and they'll be like little teddy bear miniature meerkats very soon

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and it's looking excellent, absolutely ten out of ten.

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But Darren knows only too well that when there's good news

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on Meerkat Mountain, bad news is often not far behind.

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We'll be back very soon.

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Pets Corner is home to a huge array of animals,

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from the sweet to the not so sweet, but hidden behind the scenes is one rather special creature.

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-I've joined keeper Bev Allen with this very impressive African land snail.

-Yes, that's right.

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He's absolutely enormous.

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He is. He's the biggest land snail we have here at Longleat and he lives

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with five other snails in a glass tank and he's called Geoff.

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-Geoff.

-Geoff the snail.

-Is Geoff fully grown?

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We think he's about fully-grown now.

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They can get to about 15 to 20 centimetres long, which is about eight inches long.

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Wow, we're probably talking almost twice his size.

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Yes, he's about eight years old now.

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He used to be someone's pet and he's just arrived to us.

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But I understand you think there's been a bit of a problem in his diet in earlier times.

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We think he might have had a lack of calcium in his diet.

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The reason for this is because the shell's quite long and thin and so what we've done since

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he's been here is to give him lots more calcium in the diet to strengthen the shell out, really.

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So that if he's in his tank, if he moves around it's not going to damage

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the shell, so more calcium means the shell will be a lot stronger.

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Obviously when you're feeding snails out of their natural environment,

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you have to make sure that you give them

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exactly the same minerals they would have in the wild.

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Yes, so we have to supplement their diet.

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We give them cuttlefish and also a special supplement we sprinkle on their food and it helps

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to get calcium into their diet, to make that shell nice and strong for them.

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He's the most extraordinary creature and there'll be plenty more like him coming up on today's programme.

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Here's what's still to come.

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We're going back to Meerkat Mountain to find out if all five babies survive.

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Down in Pets Corner, the otters are shocked by some unexpected arrivals.

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And Jamie Oliver's got nothing to beat Alexa's secret recipe.

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Just ask the ferrets.

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There are about 900 animals at Longleat and most of them are fussy eaters.

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The job of supplying food to the whole safari park

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falls on the shoulders of Mark Tye and his team.

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The making up of the feeds and stuff

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is probably not my most enjoyable part of my job.

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It's a job that's got to be done.

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First thing every morning, the food is distributed to all the different sections of the safari park,

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then the keepers in each section make up the meals for each of their animals.

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And food at Longleat can be served in any number of ways.

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It can be dropped from the back of a tractor, thrown off the side of a boat,

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trailed out of the door of a car, hidden up the tree,

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dangled from a tree, stuffed in a tree or sprinkled on the ground.

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Carefully chopped, hand-fed, bottle-fed, spoon-fed

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and even sometimes, just for a change, served up on a plate.

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Down in Pets Corner, head of section Darren Beasley and his team

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have got food preparation down to a fine art.

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We've got more animals in Pets Corner than the rest of the park.

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They may be small but they all have their own dietary requirements.

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We have so many animals, so many hungry animals all the time, it's a never-ending cycle.

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Morning, guys! Breakfast.

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Everything from exotic fruit, from papaya and mango,

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all the way down to whole chickens and things like that.

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It's an incredible amount of food.

0:22:030:22:05

You've got to remember how many animals are in that enclosure, what time they need their food,

0:22:050:22:10

how they need it presented, do they need multivitamins sprinkled on it,

0:22:100:22:14

do they like it chopped lengthways or in segments? This is just skimming the surface.

0:22:140:22:18

We tease the guys up in the lion reserve.

0:22:180:22:21

They do the most dangerous job on the whole park,

0:22:210:22:23

but they drive a tractor around and chuck meat out. What's the skill in that?

0:22:230:22:27

Today, in addition to the regular order, keeper Alexa Fairbairn

0:22:270:22:32

has asked Mark for some special ingredients for the ferrets.

0:22:320:22:35

We get requests, get things that they don't normally

0:22:350:22:39

have on an everyday basis. The ferrets, for example.

0:22:390:22:43

So we've gone off and had to go round the

0:22:430:22:45

supermarkets and shops, looking for the necessary things they require.

0:22:450:22:50

See how much he weighs.

0:22:500:22:52

'A few months ago we did have a problem with them,

0:22:520:22:54

where a mystery illness

0:22:540:22:56

'swept in, basically, and a few of them did get very poorly,

0:22:560:22:59

so we requested from Mark'

0:22:590:23:01

to bring down

0:23:010:23:02

a few different treats for them,

0:23:020:23:04

just to build them up that little bit more,

0:23:040:23:07

and hopefully they'll like it.

0:23:070:23:08

Back in the kitchen, Alexa has her recipe for today's special,

0:23:080:23:13

ferret food cordon bleu.

0:23:130:23:15

Simply take one finely-chopped cucumber.

0:23:150:23:19

Toss in a spattering of raisins.

0:23:200:23:24

Two spoonfuls of creamy peanut butter.

0:23:250:23:29

They love peanut butter. But it does have to be the smooth variety.

0:23:290:23:32

Anything with the chunks can get lodged in their digestive systems.

0:23:320:23:36

Gently squeeze on some delicious multivitamin paste.

0:23:360:23:40

Add a generous dollop of succulent dog food, stir briskly,

0:23:420:23:47

and then, the finishing touch -

0:23:470:23:50

drench with aromatic cod-liver oil.

0:23:500:23:53

This isn't just ferret food,

0:23:530:23:56

this is special dietary-supplement ferret food!

0:23:560:24:00

And there we go.

0:24:010:24:03

That's all very well, but will they like it?

0:24:030:24:06

There, boys. This is brilliant to see.

0:24:060:24:10

A lot of them are tucking in, particularly some of the older ones,

0:24:100:24:13

which is brilliant.

0:24:130:24:15

They obviously like it.

0:24:150:24:17

We'll weigh them every couple of weeks, particularly the older ones,

0:24:170:24:20

like little Angus. We'll keep weighing him

0:24:200:24:22

just to make sure he's OK.

0:24:220:24:24

We'll try out another recipe in a couple of weeks,

0:24:240:24:27

see how they get on with

0:24:270:24:28

that one as well, then pick out their favourites,

0:24:280:24:31

and maybe try and make it into a more regular thing.

0:24:310:24:33

But the ferrets aren't the only ones with special requests.

0:24:330:24:37

The keepers always try to give the animals just what they want,

0:24:370:24:41

whether that's hot potatoes to keep the monkeys warm in the winter,

0:24:410:24:46

-or blackcurrant squash.

-Nice?

0:24:460:24:48

Dates and natural yogurt for Nico the gorilla.

0:24:500:24:53

His medicine has to be disguised. The only way

0:24:530:24:56

we've found to get him to take it every day is mix it with yoghurt.

0:24:560:25:01

But out of Longleat's 90 species, who has the largest appetite of all?

0:25:010:25:07

In fact, there's no mystery.

0:25:070:25:09

The biggest eater is the biggest animal.

0:25:090:25:11

Winston the bull rhino weighs

0:25:110:25:13

two and a half tonnes, and every day

0:25:130:25:16

he consumes 25 kilos of hay and up to four and a half kilos

0:25:160:25:21

of high-fibre pellets.

0:25:210:25:24

But while Winston eats the most food, he's not the greediest.

0:25:240:25:28

In fact, that title goes to one of the smallest animals here,

0:25:280:25:31

the Egyptian fruit bats.

0:25:310:25:33

Every day, each of them will eat their own body weight in fruit.

0:25:330:25:37

That's like me eating 100 pineapples

0:25:380:25:40

or 600 bananas, or even 1,000 plums, each day.

0:25:400:25:46

Down in the otter enclosure, for over 30 years the keepers

0:25:560:26:00

have waited for the pitter-patter of tiny paws, but sadly,

0:26:000:26:05

none have come.

0:26:050:26:06

Then, earlier this season, to everyone's delight,

0:26:060:26:09

Rosie produced her first litter, and baby fever hit town.

0:26:090:26:14

Months later, there were more celebrations when a second litter

0:26:140:26:18

arrived, and we've just heard

0:26:180:26:20

there's even more news,

0:26:200:26:22

so Ben's heading down to meet keeper Rob Savin.

0:26:220:26:26

Morning, Rob. Tell me what's happened.

0:26:260:26:29

It's brilliant stuff, we've got two new additions to the big family.

0:26:290:26:32

The big family is huge already!

0:26:320:26:35

Huge already, yes. Eight already, and now an extra two little ones.

0:26:350:26:39

-Really recent? When was this?

-Only just under two weeks ago.

0:26:390:26:42

-Incredible.

-They're small at the minute.

0:26:420:26:45

Shall we have a look at them?

0:26:450:26:46

-They're inside?

-Yes, I check every morning.

0:26:460:26:48

What we have to do first of all, if I give you a pair of these,

0:26:480:26:51

I'll let you go on in and do it.

0:26:510:26:53

-We're OK going close to them?

-You should be.

0:26:530:26:55

What I like to do every morning is,

0:26:550:26:57

while I can get the others out, the adults out, and

0:26:570:27:00

give them a bit of grub, they'll come out for that.

0:27:000:27:02

I just lock them out very briefly so I can go in and give it a clean,

0:27:020:27:06

because I don't want to go in for too long.

0:27:060:27:08

I go in and give it a clean and check that they're all right.

0:27:080:27:11

These gloves are so that I don't put my smell anywhere near them?

0:27:110:27:15

Yeah, absolutely. If you just rummage your hands gently into the straw,

0:27:150:27:18

you'll get a bit of the otters'

0:27:180:27:20

smell on them so that they know it's nothing to worry about.

0:27:200:27:23

Because they can't see at the moment.

0:27:230:27:25

They're pretty helpless for a while.

0:27:250:27:27

Just get in there, have a little check.

0:27:270:27:30

Probably somewhere at the back. I'll let you go on in.

0:27:300:27:34

Rummage your hands first of all in the straw.

0:27:340:27:37

-Just gently step in.

-Just over here somewhere?

0:27:370:27:39

Just have a little rummage around, very gently move some of the straw.

0:27:390:27:42

Have you found them? There you go.

0:27:420:27:44

I can see them over in the corner there. They're absolutely tiny.

0:27:440:27:48

They are at the moment.

0:27:480:27:49

I've just seen some movement, that's probably what you're looking for.

0:27:490:27:53

They're both all right at the moment.

0:27:530:27:55

They have been so far, so fingers crossed.

0:27:550:27:58

-I don't want to disturb them.

-It's early days at the moment.

0:27:580:28:01

Shall I put this back on them now?

0:28:010:28:04

Yeah, just gently cover them back over,

0:28:040:28:06

and we'll let mum back in and she can come and have a smell.

0:28:060:28:09

And that's what you'll do, check that they're OK,

0:28:090:28:11

there's no problems?

0:28:110:28:13

Literally, that's it at the moment.

0:28:130:28:14

They're doing everything on their own.

0:28:140:28:17

The first time when we had the babies in the past, I was like

0:28:170:28:20

a worried father, trying to get involved, "Should I intervene

0:28:200:28:23

"in some way?", but they're perfectly capable of sorting themselves out.

0:28:230:28:27

How long will they be suckling from Rosie?

0:28:270:28:31

It's around 40 days, but to be honest, the first time

0:28:310:28:34

she had pups, almost two years ago now, everything was by the book.

0:28:340:28:38

It was eyes open 40 days, start eating solids around the same sort of

0:28:380:28:42

time, outside at the appropriate time, about six or seven weeks.

0:28:420:28:45

But last year it was a bit different.

0:28:450:28:47

She was bringing them out after about two weeks, and we were thinking,

0:28:470:28:51

"What are they doing so early?," and worrying,

0:28:510:28:54

but there's no need to worry - it happened before.

0:28:540:28:56

Are you confident they'll interact with the others?

0:28:560:28:59

I think they'll be fine.

0:28:590:29:00

The initial thing when they do get a little bit bigger,

0:29:000:29:03

when they do start eating the solid food,

0:29:030:29:06

I'm just going to have to make sure they're getting a fair share

0:29:060:29:09

and the original big pups aren't

0:29:090:29:11

getting greedy and taking it from them, but they should all be helping,

0:29:110:29:15

the whole family should help.

0:29:150:29:16

-Fantastic. Well, congratulations.

-Thank you very much.

0:29:160:29:19

Thank you for letting me see them.

0:29:190:29:21

At Meerkat Mountain, the five new babies are now six weeks old,

0:29:320:29:36

and it's a very special day for them and their keeper, John Reynolds.

0:29:360:29:40

It's a lovely day today, so we've decided that

0:29:400:29:42

we're going to let the meerkats out.

0:29:420:29:44

We have let them out in the past,

0:29:440:29:46

but this is the first full day they've been out.

0:29:460:29:48

It's very rare for them to have five, and to be honest we didn't really

0:29:480:29:52

expect all of them to survive, and we've got the results now.

0:29:520:29:56

We've got all five still living, and absolutely incredible.

0:29:560:30:00

And now, here they come.

0:30:010:30:04

Meerkats don't start to get their adult markings until

0:30:050:30:08

they're three months old.

0:30:080:30:10

But they're born with those black patches around their eyes,

0:30:100:30:14

which makes them look like little gangsters.

0:30:140:30:17

There's a large enclosure to be explored,

0:30:190:30:22

and plenty of mischief to get up to.

0:30:220:30:25

Already, their personalities are starting to show through.

0:30:390:30:43

Some are more adventurous than others,

0:30:430:30:46

and at the end of the day, they're all exhausted and ready to go back

0:30:460:30:50

in their house under the mountain.

0:30:500:30:53

Eagle-eyed John has been watching them closely and has spotted that

0:30:530:30:57

one has a minor injury.

0:30:570:30:59

They've been bounding around,

0:30:590:31:01

having a whale of a time, but unfortunately one of them has

0:31:010:31:04

hurt his eye or something.

0:31:040:31:06

It's got caught on a stick or something outside,

0:31:060:31:08

possibly been fighting, so it's gone a bit sore so we're going to

0:31:080:31:12

put some medication on it.

0:31:120:31:14

If there's any infections, it will clear any infections, but also

0:31:140:31:17

just for our peace of mind, really.

0:31:170:31:19

Meerkats identify each other mainly by smell, so John makes sure he gets

0:31:190:31:25

the mob's scent on his hands before he administers the eye drops.

0:31:250:31:29

Come on, here we go.

0:31:290:31:31

Here he is. You don't really want to pick them up unless

0:31:320:31:35

we absolutely have to,

0:31:350:31:36

but we're trying to step in there before anything happens.

0:31:360:31:40

You all right?

0:31:470:31:48

Over the next few days, John keeps a close eye on them.

0:31:510:31:55

By watching their parents, the babies quickly learn to

0:31:550:31:59

eat bugs and fruit,

0:31:590:32:00

the staples of a meerkat diet.

0:32:000:32:02

And because there are five brothers and sisters, there's a lot of rough

0:32:020:32:06

-and tumble at dinner-time.

-From a young age,

0:32:060:32:09

the babies will fight amongst themselves - they want more food,

0:32:090:32:12

they want to be the strongest,

0:32:120:32:14

and in the wild it's survival of the fittest.

0:32:140:32:17

In the barren deserts where they come from, food is very scarce, and

0:32:170:32:22

an extra mouthful can be the difference between life and death.

0:32:220:32:25

Meerkat Mountain is a much safer place to grow up, but it's not

0:32:250:32:30

completely without hazards.

0:32:300:32:32

One's had a fall and is limping.

0:32:320:32:35

Although John's concerned, he knows it could be

0:32:350:32:38

more dangerous to intervene.

0:32:380:32:40

We'll keep a close eye on it

0:32:400:32:41

for now, and in the next couple of days make sure it's all right.

0:32:410:32:45

We'll do it from a distance at first.

0:32:450:32:47

We don't want to go in there and pick it up every day.

0:32:470:32:49

It will stress it out, it'll stress the mum out. We don't

0:32:490:32:53

really want that, so we'll keep an eye on it and see how it goes.

0:32:530:32:56

So far, there's only been a couple

0:32:560:32:58

of minor injuries, but these little ones still have a long way to go.

0:32:580:33:04

We'll be back later to see if they all survive.

0:33:040:33:07

Roaming across the safari park are a variety of different antelope.

0:33:150:33:18

Since Darcy the bongo is now thankfully safe back in his

0:33:180:33:22

enclosure, it means I can head off

0:33:220:33:24

in search of the notoriously shy black buck family.

0:33:240:33:28

Once hunted almost to extinction,

0:33:280:33:31

getting close to these rare creatures is near impossible.

0:33:310:33:35

So I've joined head of section Tim Yeo to entice them over

0:33:350:33:40

with a little food.

0:33:400:33:41

We're creeping about a little bit because we've come here

0:33:410:33:45

to see the black buck.

0:33:450:33:47

There's a beautiful family, just over there.

0:33:470:33:50

But they're very, very shy, so Tim

0:33:500:33:52

and I went out and fed them a little bit earlier, snuck back in here,

0:33:520:33:56

and now we're watching them,

0:33:560:33:58

-although the buffalo have slightly scuppered our plans.

-They have,

0:33:580:34:02

-as they often do!

-They're looking quite calm.

0:34:020:34:05

It's a much bigger herd than it was last year.

0:34:050:34:08

-Yes.

-I noticed just as we were looking over there that there's

0:34:080:34:12

one that looks very much smaller than the rest. How old is that one?

0:34:120:34:16

That little kid there is about two months old now.

0:34:160:34:19

We're not quite sure whether a boy or girl at the moment.

0:34:190:34:24

Black buck, where are they from?

0:34:240:34:26

Some years ago, you would have found them very widely populated in India.

0:34:260:34:31

-Right.

-But I think, because of hunting, and poaching

0:34:310:34:36

more so, I think now you'd probably have to go to northern Nepal, really.

0:34:360:34:40

I was going to ask you about the name, because black buck

0:34:400:34:43

seems a little odd.

0:34:430:34:44

You've got one quite dark brown, chocolaty-coloured, clearly a male,

0:34:440:34:49

with the big horns, but the rest of them are sort of beige.

0:34:490:34:52

Shouldn't they be called beige buck, really?!

0:34:520:34:55

Yes, it's an interesting one, because even adult males, if they haven't

0:34:550:35:00

quite reached sexual maturity, they will retain that beigey colour.

0:35:000:35:06

Oh, really? So it's only the dominant male in the herd that

0:35:060:35:09

will get that lovely, dark, chocolaty colour.

0:35:090:35:13

Exactly, and that apparently is due to the testosterone level.

0:35:130:35:18

As that rises, he gets this lovely, dark coat.

0:35:180:35:22

It can also change back.

0:35:220:35:24

They're incredibly swift, aren't they? Look at the little one.

0:35:240:35:28

That's fantastic.

0:35:280:35:30

Really elegant animals.

0:35:300:35:32

They would have been hunted, many years ago, by cheetah.

0:35:320:35:36

They apparently can achieve speeds of about 110 kilometres per hour.

0:35:360:35:43

That's extraordinary!

0:35:430:35:45

That leaping is a very good defence mechanism, isn't it?

0:35:450:35:49

-It breaks up the line of concentration.

-Quite.

0:35:490:35:53

Oh, they're giving us a great show, this is fantastic.

0:35:530:35:56

Do you ever have problems with the males fighting?

0:35:560:35:59

That will certainly happen,

0:35:590:36:01

particularly as a young male comes up through the group,

0:36:010:36:05

and when he feels that he's strong enough to take on the herd male,

0:36:050:36:08

then we would certainly get fighting.

0:36:080:36:11

It's severe fighting, it's pretty nasty.

0:36:110:36:14

So if this little young one does prove to be a male,

0:36:140:36:17

will you then need to think about maybe splitting

0:36:170:36:20

the herd up or moving him away

0:36:200:36:22

so that you don't have this big clash between father and son?

0:36:220:36:26

That certainly is an issue.

0:36:260:36:29

We'll have some time before that is necessary.

0:36:290:36:33

Well, it's just been wonderful to see them, Tim.

0:36:330:36:36

They are the most difficult things to film at Longleat,

0:36:360:36:39

but they've given us a great show.

0:36:390:36:41

Thank you very much indeed, and thank you, black buck.

0:36:410:36:43

At Meerkat Mountain, the mob are in mourning.

0:37:050:37:08

Although all five babies survived for two months,

0:37:080:37:11

and seemed to be doing well, there's now been some very bad news.

0:37:110:37:16

A few days ago, Darren Beasley

0:37:160:37:18

arrived to find that the baby with the poorly eye

0:37:180:37:21

had died in the night.

0:37:210:37:23

If that wasn't bad enough, the next day

0:37:240:37:27

he discovered another of the pups had succumbed to a mystery ailment.

0:37:270:37:32

One minute everybody's really elated and really happy

0:37:320:37:35

and we're raising the roof

0:37:350:37:37

cos we've got babies, and the next minute it's all very sad

0:37:370:37:40

because nature can be so cruel and heartless,

0:37:400:37:43

and we've lost a couple of babies, which is really quite sad.

0:37:430:37:47

It's yet another blow for meerkat keeper John Reynolds.

0:37:470:37:51

It was a shock to begin with. We were absolutely

0:37:510:37:56

devastated, but we've got used to the fact that they've gone.

0:37:560:38:01

We've got to get on with it and focus on

0:38:010:38:03

the three that are here.

0:38:030:38:04

John doesn't have time to dwell on these sad events,

0:38:040:38:08

because right now they're expecting a special visitor.

0:38:080:38:11

Lord Bath himself has come down from the great house

0:38:160:38:20

to meet the meerkat pups.

0:38:200:38:22

He's concerned to find there's now only three.

0:38:220:38:25

Can you be sure it's not the parents killing them?

0:38:250:38:30

We don't think so, because if it was,

0:38:300:38:32

there would be bite marks and blood.

0:38:320:38:35

We'll keep a close eye on the rest of these ones and hope for the best.

0:38:350:38:39

Yes. Hello!

0:38:390:38:41

Now they've got this far... Which is what, three months old?

0:38:430:38:47

Two months old, nearly, eight weeks.

0:38:470:38:49

How good are the chances they'll reach adult?

0:38:490:38:52

In a month or so, they'll be more or less self-sufficient.

0:38:520:38:55

Hopefully, they'll all survive, the rest of them.

0:38:550:38:58

Hello! Do they nip?

0:38:580:39:01

You wouldn't ever put your hand underneath and pick up?

0:39:010:39:04

Er, no, not without gauntlets. For a very, very good reason.

0:39:040:39:08

I think I'm liable to a surreptitious attack from behind!

0:39:080:39:13

Of course, the meerkats aren't really little gangsters or bandits,

0:39:180:39:22

despite the names that John's suggested for the three little ones.

0:39:220:39:26

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly!

0:39:260:39:28

It's just that they look so mischievous,

0:39:290:39:31

and, despite all the tragedies, there's something about the mob

0:39:310:39:35

that people can identify with.

0:39:350:39:38

We can relate to them, cos they're a family,

0:39:380:39:40

everybody looking after each other.

0:39:400:39:42

I could spend hours in here.

0:39:420:39:43

If I didn't have a real job to do, earn my pennies, I just sit in here

0:39:430:39:48

for hours and watch and enjoy this.

0:39:480:39:50

It's nice. It's nice to have things

0:39:500:39:52

to be proud of, and I'm really proud of this, really am.

0:39:520:39:56

Earlier today, Darcy, the new bongo to the safari park,

0:40:130:40:17

tried to exit Longleat.

0:40:170:40:18

Yes, a whole group of keepers had to work very closely together to try

0:40:180:40:23

and coax him back into the safari park and into safety.

0:40:230:40:27

You may think that is Darcy.

0:40:270:40:29

But oh no, he has been confined to quarters,

0:40:290:40:32

and deputy head warden Ian Turner is here.

0:40:320:40:35

Ian, the operation seemed to go extremely well.

0:40:350:40:38

It was actually very calm and very ordered.

0:40:380:40:41

Yeah, one of the lucky things is, he's quiet.

0:40:410:40:43

That's one of the good things.

0:40:430:40:44

The hiccup is, because he's quiet,

0:40:440:40:46

he caused the problem he caused, by walking across a cattle grid.

0:40:460:40:50

One of the problems was that Darcy

0:40:500:40:52

likes to keep himself to himself and away from the other bongo.

0:40:520:40:55

Behind us is evidence they rather like him. Is that so?

0:40:550:40:59

They know something's happened.

0:40:590:41:01

Today he's been on a bit of a journey,

0:41:010:41:03

so they've just come to see what's going on.

0:41:030:41:06

What's going to be the plan?

0:41:060:41:08

Because clearly he can't stay shut in here forever?

0:41:080:41:12

Well the plan is, we'll just keep him in a little bit longer

0:41:130:41:17

so he gets a little bit used to them,

0:41:170:41:18

and we'll maybe try and mix one of them inside, which we did before.

0:41:180:41:22

They got on quite well.

0:41:220:41:23

As soon as they came outside, he just wandered off on his own.

0:41:230:41:26

-Right.

-He doesn't seem to mix well very, do you?

0:41:260:41:29

Ian, you've been here for...

0:41:290:41:32

We won't say how many years,

0:41:320:41:34

but you must have had animals breaching fences in the past?

0:41:340:41:38

How do you think the whole exercise earlier went?

0:41:380:41:41

Lovely. I mean, he was a bit of a pain when we got him back in

0:41:410:41:44

and walked him towards the house.

0:41:440:41:46

As soon as we got him towards here, he ran off again,

0:41:460:41:49

straight towards the cattle grid,

0:41:490:41:51

but we managed to stop him in time again, and got him in a trailer.

0:41:510:41:55

We put him in a trailer, didn't we?

0:41:550:41:57

One of the things we'll have to do is sort out the cattle grid,

0:41:570:42:00

cos that one is broken.

0:42:000:42:01

So that wants fixing. Maybe we'll have to do some fencing at the side.

0:42:010:42:05

One of the things they don't like is walking on concrete.

0:42:050:42:08

-Ah!

-Which is why we wanted to get him out of the paddock

0:42:080:42:11

as early as we can, and back into the open.

0:42:110:42:13

While we've been talking,

0:42:130:42:15

another bongo has also come up to check on Darcy!

0:42:150:42:18

They can all be reassured that he's fine.

0:42:180:42:20

They can, and so can we. He's looking fantastic, Ian.

0:42:200:42:23

I'm glad everything went well.

0:42:230:42:25

Sadly, that's all we've got time for on today's programme,

0:42:250:42:28

but here's what's coming up on the next Animal Park.

0:42:280:42:31

Last year, the pregnant sea lions defended their territory against

0:42:320:42:35

the keepers, but it's birthing time again, and another fight is brewing.

0:42:350:42:41

They've decided now they want my bridge.

0:42:410:42:44

So, I'm not having it, I will win!

0:42:440:42:47

We're up with the giraffes to see

0:42:470:42:50

the other part of their body that's very long.

0:42:500:42:53

And we turn back the clock over 50 years to a time when being

0:42:530:42:57

a visitor at Longleat was quite a different experience.

0:42:570:43:01

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:43:090:43:11

E-mail [email protected]

0:43:110:43:13

The Longleat keepers' worst fears are realised when an animal escapes. Ben Fogle and Kate Humble are there as the situation unfolds. There is also an update from meerkat mountain, where babies are imminent.


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