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London Zoo keepers hope to expand their collection of creepy-crawlies

Zoo-keepers given the mammoth task of counting every animal at London Zoo are hoping to expand their creepy-crawly collection during the coming year.

Handlers in the tarantula enclosure hope to increase the insect population by breeding Mexican Red-Kneed bird-eating spiders.

A month ago, keepers discovered that one of the eight-legged females at the zoo was actually a male.

Senior keeper in bugs, Mark Tansley, said: “We use the females for our spider talk. About a month ago we discovered that one of them is male. We are hoping to use that one to mate with some of our females.”

Staff at the zoo began counting all creatures great and small as part of the annual stock-take.

The task is not too arduous for meerkat keepers but for other animal handlers the inventory could take up to four weeks.

Staff in the aquarium have to head-count more than 4,700 fish while bug keepers have to tally-up thousands of tiny insects.

Mr Tansley said: “It is a lot easier to count the larger mammals such as the gorillas or the lions but when it comes to invertebrate, they are a lot smaller and are more prolific breeders.”

During the census, bug handlers have to estimate the size of ant colonies, count millipedes into tubs and carefully unearth creatures that live underground.

But one of the most difficult tasks is counting the hundreds of butterflies at the zoo.

“The butterfly census is quite tricky,” Mr Tansley said. “We go in to count them before the heat goes on while they are resting on the plants.

Recent additions to the zoo’s population will be included in the census. A baby western lowland gorilla will be counted for the first time.

The male, who was born in October but is yet to be named, was the first gorilla to be born at the zoo in 20 years.

Other new additions to the inventory include two golden-head lion tamarins, two two-toed sloths and hundreds of tiny baby seahorses.

It is the first time the zoo’s penguins will not be included in the count. The birds are in the process of being sent to Whipsnade Zoo while a new enclosure is built for them.

With births and deaths each year, the compulsory annual head count is vital for keeping tabs on the zoo’s inhabitants.

The last inventory found there were more than 16,000 residents of the zoo made up of 726 different species.

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