While this finished its run on Channel 4 some months ago, this review was another I had to put on the backburner. But better late than never. The second series of The Secret Life Of The Zoo was once again narrated by Olivia Colman, and continued in the same vein as series one, showing the lives of the animals in Chester Zoo, with contributions from the zoo keepers.
Asiatic lions, male Iblis and female Kumari have been together for five years but have produced no cubs. As there are less than five hundred Asiatic lions in the wild the zoo wanted to try and help them get together.
In the wild, lionesses only mate with the strongest and most aggressive lions, who will protect the pride from attacks. That is the male lion’s job. The lionesses do the hunting and raise the cubs, the lion protects the pride.
Keeper Chris said “In the wild [male lions] are ripped. And they need to be, otherwise they wouldn’t survive.” Ibris might have let himself go a bit. He’s become out of shape as the zoo feeds him steak every day. He’s got too comfortable and lazy. He doesn’t need to hunt to survive (which he would need to do if he wasn’t part of a pride, or to prove himself worthy of joining one), as he knows he’s going to get a bit of meat served to him anyway, which unfortunately means he’s lost aggression and muscle.
The zoo decide to set up some carcasses hanging from a tree, meaning Iblis has to put a bit more effort in pulling the carcass down and tearing it to eat, regaining some of his wild instincts and building up his muscles. The keepers compared to training at a gym. It seems to succeed, and the lions mate.
The tiger family we saw last series, mother Kirana, father Fabi, sons Topan and Jaya and daughter Kasarna remained close, but that presented a problem. Fabi was moved to another zoo to start a new family, and the sons will be following in their fathers footsteps in a way, as they too are destined to become breeder males. It’s crucial to keeping their species alive, as Sumatran tigers are very endangered. But it is still upsetting for the tigers. Kirana was very affected by Fabi’s departure, more so than the zoo expected. In the wild, tigers tend to be solitary and beyond mating adults very rarely see each other. Kirana started calling for Fabi after he left, was increasingly protective of her cubs, and the keepers struggled to get her to eat.
After Topan and Jaya had gone, it was sad to see Kirana looking for them afterwards. But it was Kasarna who was more affected by it, withdrawing and spending more time by herself. The keepers got mother and daughter to bond again – using a sack of rhino dung! -and plan to introduce a new male to possibly mate with Kasarna.
Bears (oh my)
Lima and Bernie are two spectacled bears. Lima was described by keeper Lucy as “a real little diva, she does what she wants in her own time”. Lima likes to climb on top of a tree and “watch the world go by” and look around at the rest of the zoo.
Lima was pregnant with Bernie’s cub, and she started to build a nest. Sadly, the cub didn’t survive, and we heard the heartbreaking events afterwards, that Lima apparently didn’t realise it had died, and kept nuzzling it, and even after the cub’s body was taken away she stayed in the nest for a while.
In order to get Lima and Bernie to mate again, the keepers decide to spread honey around on the trees in the paddock so that the bears will try to find it, and hopefully it will help them bond.
Bernie is twice as strong, but Lima calls the shots in the relationship. Bears, according to Lucy, have more romance involved than a lot of animals. Spectacled bears make a “trilling” sound when they are together. Lima starts building a nest, so she may be pregnant again.
The elephants are another family we met in series one. They lost two youngsters to a virus last year, which has affected them badly. In particular, Sundara has become depressed and isolated herself more from the herd since the death of her son, Hari.
What does still bond the herd together is the one baby they still have, Nandita. She loves playing in the mud and being washed with a hose pipe. She tries to cheer up her auntie Sundara. She’s also a real daddy’s girl, as she and her father Aung Bo really enjoy each other’s company. In the wild, bull elephants aren’t part of a herd, and therefore not part of a family, but here it seems to work having the father around.
The keepers believe the best thing for the herd would be to have more calves. Nandita is pretty much the glue holding the family together, when she isn’t around they are more separated from one another. Playing is also important for the development of calves just as it is for human children, so having no other calves around could cause problems for Nandita.
Aung Bo enters musth, a period heightened sexual excitement, and mates with Sundara , who becomes pregnant, so hopefully the family will have a new calf soon.
Grevy’s zebras have new additions to their small herd after mares Florence and Nadine are pregnant. Florence gives birth to a male foal, Angus. When he is born at first he spends a lot of time on the floor. Florence kicks him so he will get up. In the wild, zebra foals are very easy targets for predators, so they have to get on their feet as quick as they can, and while the zebras are safe from predators in the zoo, they have no way of knowing that.
Nadine suffers a long and difficult pregnancy, but successfully gives birth to a female foal, Elinor, who is on her feet very quickly. They have different personalities. Angus is quite cocky while Elinor is very timid.
Florence and Nadina are fiercely protective of their new foals, even protecting against other members of the herd. Nadine’s older daughter Merida for example, who is jealous of her new baby sister and is starting to act a bit like a sulky teenager.
Willie has been brought in to be the breeding male. He’s still a bit of a “gawky teenager” and a bit idle, so not that attractive to the breeding females Sarikei and Leia. He does spend a lot of time with Martha, who has been at the zoo since 1966. It’s a bit of an age-gap relationship, as Martha is quite elderly, and is too old to conceive.
Because orangutan DNA is so similar to humans, the zoo can use an ordinary high street pregnancy test on them! Keeper Chris gives Sarikei ten litres of blackcurrant juice, and holds a jug underneath her cage for her to pee in. The urine comes out light pink! Anyway, it is tested, and she is pregnant.
The huge alpha male Puluh is described as the keepers as “a brilliant dad” and good with the kids.
The orangutans are moved next door to an area that is bigger and more designed with orangutans in mind specifically. But keeper Tim pointed out that orangutans dislike change and prefer comfort and familiarity, especially as they get older, but the kids tend to be more adaptable.
The family includes two adult sisters Subis and Emma who occasionally don’t get on well as they have very different personalities.
Subis is more confident and goes in to explore the new surroundings with her daughter, Tutti. Keeper Claire said it’s good for the orangutans to explore their new home, comparing it to when people move to a new area and “wandering down the street to figure out where the local shop is!”.
Emma is more cautious and likes to think about something before taking a risk and is very protective of her son, Tripper, so she doesn’t venture into the new territory for a while. Again, this is understandable as while the zoo is a safe place, the orangutans have no way of knowing that for sure.
After the move, both sisters cause concerns for the keepers in different ways. Emma isolates herself and Tripper more from the group. Subis, however, escapes from the new area, along with seven of the youngsters!
They climb onto the roof, with Subis heading for the skylight. We see it via the CCTV camera. It reminds me a bit of when Big Brother contestants break into the camera run. Subis tips out the contents of a black binliner, opens a box of rubber gloves and tries them on. She also tries on a red fire hydrant cover. It was interesting to see how analytical she looked at those everyday objects though, orangutans are very inquisitive. An hour and 15 minutes after escaping she and her kids were lured back to the enclosure with bananas.
Babirusa and Otters
The zoo sometimes does “mixed species exhibits”, where they put together animals of different species, but who they would encounter in their natural habitat. A pregnant babirusa Kendari is in the same enclosure as two otters Wallace and Annie, described by keepers as “the neighbours from hell”. They crap in the hay in Kendari’s enclosure and bang pebbles on her door. The keepers decide to evict the otters because they are stressing Kendari out, and this is deadly serious when babirusas are pregnant. It is not unknown for a stressed mother pig to eat her newborn piglets! They also may accidentally crush them.
The otters are moved in to the orangutan’s area. The orangutans aren’t keen on their new neighbours either. They all grunt to show their disapproval! Willie throws a stick at them in the water (which is often how dominant male orangutans act when they spot what they think is a threat to the group). Willie and Sarikei start banging on the otter’s enclosure (Serves the otters right! See how they like it when it happens to them!).
The otters become hard to find, not turning up to be fed unlike usual. When they look into the otter’s holt it turns out that unknown to the keepers, Annie has given birth to five otter pups!
The otters are moved back into their old place. Wallace looks after the pups, while Annie goes out to look for fish. Kendari has given birth to her piglet now, and there is a clash with the two new families at first, but they seem to tolerate each other better now.
Nocturnal primates aye-ayes are apparently considered to be ugly, but I think they’re quite cute! They have a long finger which they use to tap on a tree to search for grubs, and then use the finger to get them out to eat. Raz, an aye-aye at the zoo was hand-reared by keepers after his mother rejected him. Poor Raz is cripplingly shy around the zoo’s female aye-aye, Mamy. He checks her out, but the second she sees him he runs away! The keepers decide to try and help Raz gain more confidence by introducing him to more animals, in this case two jumping rats. Raz is very nervous about them at first, but gets used to them. He also gets more confident around Mamy, but it is still his first time, so lots of clumsy fumbles and advances so far.
When the dominant female, Lisa, becomes pregnant and then gives birth to a baby, Han, all the other macaques are excited. It’s similar to humans in a way, when there’s a new baby they introduce it to the family and everyone wants to see it.
The group fuss over the new arrival, in particular the lower ranking females, as being seen with the new baby is a way of raising their social status.
All this gets a bit exhausting for Lisa though. The father, dominant male Mamassa, doesn’t show much concern for the baby, but to be fair, that isn’t unusual. Generally, the job of male macaques is to protect the group from invaders and to mate with the females, and most of the time they have nothing to do with raising the young.
However, that doesn’t mean it’s true every time. Lisa’s son Beaker is eager to be a babysitter and looks after Han to give Lisa a rest. When the macaques have three more Beaker is the group babysitter and looks after all of them when needed, which the mums appreciate.
The narration described the “monkey business” going on with the capuchins, both literal and metaphorical.
The dad, Eubank, is quite fickle. One minute he wants to play with the kids, next minute he gets bored and wants to do something else. Mum Maud teaches their young, five sons, how to get food, such as showing them how to strip bark from trees. Their eldest son, Rocky, is quite rebellious though. He doesn’t pay attention in “class”. He’s described as a troublemaker by the keepers. At one point he nuts the camera! But if he doesn’t buck his ideas up, he’ll never be a successful dominant male.
The keepers placed mealworms in tubes for the capuchins to find. They’re always curious but hesitant about anything new. Maud examined them first, with the sons, including Rocky, watching and learning from her.
The keepers gave Rocky was given pinatas for his birthday. As he had to break the pinata open to find the food, it looked a bit like a kid unwrapping a birthday present.
Emperor Tamarins and Pygmy Marmosets
The zoo has to be careful when mixing species, but sometimes it can work out well.
Emperor tamarins have a what looks like a wispy white beard as part of their fur, and the one we meet here, Ting, was bullied by his twin, Tong and younger brother Ming. The zoo decided to separate him and move him in with a family of pygmy marmosets. The baby of the family, Gus, liked Ting a lot. Ting carries Gus around on his back. This sort of mixing and friendship very rarely happens with monkey families in the wild, but it is good training for Ting as it will give him experience in raising youngsters when he starts a family of his own.
71-year old tortoise Bert has spent 13 years as the zoo’s dominant male tortoise and had his pick of all the females. His favourite was named Smooth Sides by the keepers, as Bert had mated with her so often the markings on her shell had been smoothed down!
But, things changed for Bert when a new, younger and stronger male arrived, named Football. He wanted the dominant male position and all the females for himself, so he kept bashing and ramming into Bert’s shell like a car, and tipped him upside down a few times. Bert became depressed and stopped eating.
It got to the point where the keepers were worried Bert might die, so they brought in two Swedish females, Lynne and Sandra. But Football mated with them too! The keepers decided to build a fence to seperate Football. With Football gone, Bert was back to mating with all the females. Football saw this and tried to squeeze through the fence, but it had been measured to make sure he wouldn’t be able to squeeze through it. Serves him right, really.
Bert started to get better. At night though, while Bert slept, Lynne and Sandra, who are small enough to squeeze through the fence, sneak off to mate with Football! Well, I suppose this way everyone’s happy.
In the wild, sloths move so slowly moths make a permanent home in their fur!
Keeper Sam described the female sloth Tina as “the Marilyn Monroe of sloths”. The male, Rico is more like the dorky boy who fancies the pretty, popular girl. The keepers try and get them together. Sam described it as “It’s a little bit like setting a room up with candles and Barry White, but instead of candles and Barry White you’ve got nice little enrichment feeders”.
Rico and Tina appear to be getting together by the end.
The dominant female has been named Mum by the keepers, possibly because of how many kids she’s had. She’s now on her fifteenth litter! However, her eldest daughter, named Thirteen, is attacking her every day. She wants to overthrow Mum and become the dominant female! She’s also envious of her mother having more pups, not just in a sibling rivalry sense. Thirteen wants some pups of her own, and in meerkat groups only the dominant female is permitted to have them.
After Mum has given birth to two meerkat pups (which are super cute) there are quite vicious, violent fights between Mum and Thirteen. What looks so weird though is that at the end of the episode, Mum and Thirteen are sleeping peacefully next to each other as if nothing had happened! As strange as all this might seem to us, for meerkats this is all normal and just another day, which is why the keepers have to be careful not to intervene too much.
(Yeah, if you’re wondering, I did put the meerkats and warthogs close together mainly as a reference to Timon and Pumbaa from The Lion King.)
Magnum and Tamzin are parents to eight warthogs. Magnum, the father, is not an early riser, likes to take all the best food for himself and to spend all day wallowing in the mud. He has the end of his tail bitten off at some point though. Two of his sons, Dobby and Neville are a duo of mischievous boys.
Capybaras look sort of like a giant guinea pig. The females can have up to 100+ offspring in their lifetime. The pups look a bit like ordinary sized guinea pigs.
Jeff is the father, but his contribution was, er, the minimal it could get. As keeper Dave put it, Jeff “just did the business” then “relaxed and chilled out”.
The mother, Lochley, looked after them. She had some help though, from her own mother, Lilly. The pups even sometimes suckled from grandma Lilly!
Things took a tragic turn when Lochley became ill and died from an infection, so Lilly had to raise the pups. Jeff surprisingly started to take a more active role in bringing them up though!
Anoas have pointed horns like a devil’s, the keepers said they are known as “the Demon of the Forest” and are known to have bad tempers.
The keepers never know where they stand with Oana. She can be nice, bad tempered or anxious at different times. She gives birth to a new female calf, Nani. There is a worry that sometimes the mother and calf don’t bond. That isn’t the issue this time, quite the opposite. Oana starts overgrooming Nani. The purpose of cleaning is to prevent disease and infection, but ironically if they overdo it then they can increase the risk, and the mother’s rough tongue can strip away the calf’s protective skin.
When the mother and calf were reunited with the rest of the family, Oana’s eldest daughter Lasolo was pleased to see her mother again, but not so sure about her new little sister. To start with Oana pushed both Lasolo and the father Teal’C away if they came too close to Nani, but after a while things settled down and they worked as a family unit.
Penguin Island has a new batch of chicks, and the keepers decided to name them after brands of crisps. Two the chicks were called McCoy and Munch (after Monster Munch). Their parents are Indigo and Amber.
Penguin parents share the responsibilities and take turns. They’re not always successful though. Some chicks don’t make it to adulthood. As keeper Anne put it “Penguins haven’t got Social Services, so we have to keep an eye on them!”
Many of the chicks were losing weight rapidly and were dying. Keeper Beth pointed out that if chicks start losing weight that fast they’ll become increasingly weaker. Because of that, they won’t have the energy to beg for food, so the parents stop feeding it, making the chick even weaker until it dies. The zoo tries to supplementary feed in those cases.
They tried it with McCoy, but he died just two hours later. His brother Munch was also cause for concern, he had lost half his body weight. The vet was called in, and he diagnosed Munch with a lung infection that could kill him. It’s possible this same infection may have been what killed the other chicks.
In cases like this, the keepers have to consider the possibility of euthanising the ill animal if they are just going to suffer and never get better. Before they take that course of action though, they try one last treatment for Munch.
It is nebulisation, which involved putting Munch in a small white box, pumping in microscopic droplets of medication in a mist and Munch would inhale the medication that way. Luckily, Munch responded to the treatment and pulled through which was amazing to see!
The programme has a lot of personification and anthropomorphism, but again I think it helps viewers relate to what is going on, and the animals do have personalities and their life stories have similarities to that of humans. As many of the keepers said, perhaps we’re not so different to them.
There will be issues that the keepers have to think about, difficult decisions. They clearly bond with and care about the animals as individuals, but they also have to be objective and logical at times. Such as if an animal is ill, hasn’t responded to treatment, will never get better and is just going to suffer a slow death, sometimes it’s better to euthanise them.
There’s also that there are wider issues. If a species is critcially endangered and they need to have as much of them bred as possible, it means that, in the case with the tigers here, they had to break up a happy family. In the wild, that sort of tiger family is highly unlikely to ever happen, but it is still sad that they had to be broken up so that the males could breed elsewhere.
The Secret Life Of The Zoo was a great programme to watch. I think everyone was elated that Munch the penguin chick survived. It is interesting to see the surprising ways the animals behave and what bonds they can form. I can see why the second series came round quickly.