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Baird’s tapir twins make history at Franklin Park Zoo


October 2:
Baird’s tapir twins being treated for health complications >More

On September 29, the day that Franklin Park Zoo’s animal care staff had been so eagerly awaiting finally arrived: Abby, a Baird’s tapir, gave birth to two beautiful calves, a male and a female.

While twins are an incredibly rare occurrence in all tapir species, this pair of “tapir tots,” as they are affectionately referred to by staff, is believed to be a first for Baird’s tapirs as we can find no record of this occurring previously in zoos or in the wild.

tapir twinsThe animal care and veterinary team are thrilled that the two calves were safely delivered, after a long and arduous day that showcased incredible teamwork and commitment to care. When Abby’s water broke at 9:30 a.m. but contractions did not follow, it became clear that veterinary staff would need to intervene. After several hours of efforts to stimulate contractions, the decision was made to anesthetize Abby so that the zoo’s veterinary team could assist in delivering the calves. The anesthesia was challenging, but once it took effect, the twins were delivered manually. The male came first, then the female followed shortly after, accompanied by a scare when a heartbeat was not readily detected. Thankfully, she recovered quickly with resuscitation and both calves were soon up, alert, and taking their tiny first steps. Abby also recovered very well from the procedure.

Throughout Abby’s 13-month gestation, the veterinary and animal care teams conducted regular transabdominal ultrasounds to monitor the twins’ development. Our veterinary staff felt very well prepared throughout this unique pregnancy, thanks in large part to transdisciplinary collaboration and consultation between physicians and veterinarians from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University.

“Tuesday was one of the most challenging and rewarding days of my veterinary career,” said Dr. Eric Baitchman, Zoo New England Vice President of Animal Care and Conservation. “We planned extensively for different scenarios with the twins, and are overjoyed that both twins were delivered safely and that Abby is doing well. While we are cautiously optimistic, the first few days are critical for these twins and we are monitoring them around the clock. Our veterinary and animal care teams are doing everything we can to ensure the best chances for their survival.”

The twins had their first check-up yesterday and weigh just under 10 pounds each, which is approximately half the weight of a newborn tapir singleton. At this time the twins are separated from their mom Abby, as we want to make sure they are feeding well, are strong and have good glucose stores before they are reintroduced. Abby has visual access to her twins, and the plan is to reunite them very soon. The care team is staying around the clock as the twins require a bottle feeding every two hours. Right now, they are consuming 15-20% of their body weight daily, which is continually adjusted based on weight gain or loss.

This 24-hour monitoring is nothing new to the dedicated team. Because Abby’s pregnancy was considered high risk and there was a chance that the calves would be premature, staff monitored the cameras night and day throughout the past month in case she went into labor early.

Mom and babies will spend some time bonding behind the scenes before making their exhibit debut in the Tropical Forest. Those interested in visiting should follow along on the Zoo’s website and social media pages for the most up to date information on the #TapirTotTwins.

ZNE participates in the Baird’s Tapir Species Survival Plan (SSP), which is a cooperative, inter-zoo program coordinated nationally through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). SSPs help to ensure the survival of selected species in zoos and aquariums, most of which are threatened or endangered, and enhance conservation of these species in the wild. Abby has previously given birth to four healthy calves, each of whom resides at other AZA accredited institutions per breeding recommendations by the SSP. This pregnancy is the result of a recommended breeding between Abby and her late mate Milton. When Milton passed away at age 30 last year, he was the oldest Baird’s tapir within the AZA managed population.

An endangered species, Baird’s tapirs are the largest land mammal found in South America. Baird’s tapir calves are noted for their furry coat covered in spots and stripes, which helps to camouflage them in the dappled light of the forest. The spots and stripes fade at about six months as their coat darkens.

Zoo New England is committed to Baird’s tapir conservation and partners with the Baird’s Tapir Survival Alliance to protect Baird’s tapirs in Central America. While these animals are hunted for food and sport, their greatest threat to survival is habitat destruction due to logging and clearing of land for agriculture and development. In addition to humans, jaguars are the only other significant threat to this animal’s survival in the wild.