First baby camel born at Helsinki Zoo in 37 years
Seeing the baby camel at the Helsinki Zoo is a bewildering experience. Its eyes are beautiful, as if designed by Disney, but other than that it is all legs. The four-day-old camel foal is hairy, long-limbed, and clumsy.
When it squeaks, its mother, Selma, rises on her legs and walks over to the youngster. Staggering and occasionally falling, the foal seeks its way to its mother’s teats.
The father, 13-year-old Voodoo, looks at his family from behind a fence. “When the baby was born, the father stamped its feet. It was nervous”, explains the Helsinki Zoo veterinarian Eeva Rudbäck.
The family will be reunited in a couple of weeks’ time. The young has to learn to be quick to be able to flee in case its father loses his temper.
The foal is a minor miracle. The zoo staff only learned about the gestation when Selma went into labour.
“We knew the camels had mated but we only knew to expect a foal in the morning, when the tiny legs peeped out. Everything went really well with the first-time mother, and there was no need for us to intervene. Both the mother and the baby are doing splendidly”, Rudbäck tells. The foal’s height at withers is 120 centimetres and it weighs around 30 kilograms.
The foal’s first big achievement was to stand up. In fact, the accomplishment was of vital importance, as otherwise it would not have been able to reach its mother’s teats for milk. Already as a one-day-old infant the foal was seen stumbling along on its faltering legs behind its mother.
The last time a camel foal was born in Korkeasaari, the island where the zoo is located just outside the centre of the Finnish capital, was all of 37 years ago. After that, there have been couples, but without any offspring.
But now the floodgates have been opened. “Selma will be in heat again in a couple of months’ time”, the vet laughs. Usually camels only foal when living in herds.
The honour of naming the young was given to Helsinki’s Deputy Mayor Tuula Haatainen (SDP), who - responding to a challenge from Helsingin Sanomat and Radio Helsinki - took on the task of cleaning the camel’s enclosure on Thursday of last week.
Pertinently and presciently, Haatainen is reported to have stated afterwards that the compound was “clean enough to serve as a delivery room”.
Haatainen’s name suggestion was Nuuskamuikkunen (Snufkin), after one of the beloved Moomin characters by the Finnish children’s author Tove Jansson.
The zoo personnel were only able to confirm the foal's gender as male on Monday, when it came close enough to the fence. The determination of the sex also means that Snufkin will have to move to another zoo sometime in the future. Two males cannot be kept in the same compound without trouble ensuing.
“It will probably stay in Europe. It has to be transported via road haulage, as it will not fit into an airplane”, curator Paula Holma explains.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Camel kills wild ass at Helsinki Zoo (2.8.2007)
Helsinki Zoo, Korkeasaari
Video: The newborn camel and its mother at the Helsinki Zoo.