After almost a year of waiting, Daisy the mare finally gave birth to a gorgeous foal. However, when breeders studied her afterbirth, what they saw made their jaws drop.
Jenni Benson founded Saratoga Stud in 1997. The business is based in South Africa and focuses on breeding high quality horses for sport. Needless to say, then, Benson dedicates her life to the animals in her care.
But although she attended to all her horses equally, Benson still couldn’t help but have her favorites. And among them was one mare named Daisy. So when in 2014 Daisy became pregnant for the first time, the breeder was over the moon.
Daisy had arrived at Saratoga Stud from England, and she often caught the eye of visitors to the ranch thanks to her beautiful palomino coloring. The team therefore bred her with one of their stallions, Treliver Decanter.
The average gestation period for horses is 11 months. Often, for example, stallions will impregnate mares in summer, and the foals will arrive the following spring. Over the passing months, then, Daisy’s pregnancy progressed normally.
By January 2014, though, the horse was a week overdue. However, it was then that a stable worker rang Benson to tell her that the mare had gone into labor, and the breeder and her husband arrived at the scene just in time to witness the birth.
Daisy had foaled a stunning – and absolutely tiny – palomino colt. In fact, the baby’s small size confused Benson because his mother was quite tall at close to 18 hands.
But although the colt was small, Benson was delighted with the new arrival. And naturally, she wanted to support Daisy, so she decided to stay by the animal’s side in the stable to comfort her as best she could.
However, when Daisy began to deliver the placenta, something didn’t seem right. In fact, it appeared to Benson that her beloved mare was going into labor once again.
At this point, Daisy became distracted by her newborn foal – but Benson was still convinced that something was going on. So she placed her hand inside the horse and, to her amazement, touched two tiny feet.
With no time to lose, Benson got her husband to pull the foal out. As he did so, Benson held her arms open to catch the animal. And when it finally emerged, the couple waited with baited breath to see if the little creature was alive.
Amazingly, it was. Daisy had given birth to a healthy cremello filly, making her the mother of one boy and one girl. Benson immediately noticed that, like her brother, the foal was tiny – but her fighting spirit was clear for all to see.
Nevertheless, the twins would need all the assistance they could get if they were to grow big and strong. So Benson helped out with bottle feeds until both twins were suckling from their mom with ease. And at that point, the breeder was sure they would both survive.
Daisy’s heartwarming story subsequently touched many animal lovers’ hearts, and a Facebook photo album documenting her labor soon garnered more than 1,000 likes. “Wow what a miracle,” read one comment below the images. “Praying that mom and both babies do well!”
Interestingly, equine twins are pretty rare. Double pregnancies often result in miscarriages, as mares are just not physically equipped to carry more than one baby. As a result, it’s thought that just one twin pregnancy in 100 will result in two healthy foals.
But thankfully, it seems that Daisy and her babies were among the lucky ones. Benson later decided to name the colt Don Quixote and the filly Duet. And in her and her team’s expert care, both of the twins were soon “thriving.”
So in January 2015 Benson let the twins out of their stable for the very first time. To begin with, Benson was worried that Daisy might abandon her babies when they were out in the open. However, the doting mom ensured that her foals stayed nearby, and the outing went completely to plan.
“Duet is catching up in size to her brother. She won’t be as big as him but we didn’t think she would grow as close in size to him as she has already,” read an update on the Saratoga Stud Facebook page in 2015. “She is full of spunk and joy and they both enjoy a good gallop around the paddock when let out in the morning. They then spend most of the day grazing next to each other.”
By May 2016 Don Quixote and Duet had blossomed into beautiful animals. “They are both growing up into spectacular young horses, very mature for their age,” a Facebook post revealed. “You cannot believe that these two have grown up into these two horses.”
Benson decided the twins were so special that she couldn’t put them up for sale, so now they are growing up by their mother’s side. And, one day, they will no doubt become just as lovely as she is.
But while zookeepers are often blessed with birthing miracles as they welcome new animal life into the world, they can also witness some heartbreaking scenes. And so when a tiger cub was tragically rejected by her mother, staff at Philadelphia Zoo had to buckle up and find a way to get the abandoned cub adopted. Luckily, though, they had a clever plan – one that relied upon a special scent.
Zoya the Siberian tiger cub had a tough start to life. In July 2017 she was born at Philadelphia Zoo on what became a very sad day. You see, Zoya came into this world with four other siblings, but by an unfortunate twist of fate she turned out to be the litter’s sole survivor.
The cubs had each died under different circumstances. Two never had a chance at life as they were stillborn, while another was injured by their mother and perished from the accident. The fourth cub, meanwhile, died as a result of health complications from a gastrointestinal problem.
The fifth cub, of course, was called Zoya. Why? Well, Siberian tigers, also known as Amur tigers, hail primarily from Russia. Zoya was therefore given a Russian name, and the meaning behind it is somewhat fitting. As the only survivor of the litter, her name means “life.”
Sadly, though, Zoya’s ten-year-old mother, Koosaka, had no apparent maternal instincts, something that’s quite common among first-time tiger moms. As a result, Koosaka abandoned her motherly duties and refused to tend to her only surviving cub. Instead, little Zoya was left in the hands of zookeepers, who bottle-fed the new arrival.
As a Siberian tiger, Zoya was an endangered animal. For the good of her species’ future, then, she needed to flourish. However, without siblings or a mother, her chances looked grim. Consequently, the zoo knew it needed a plan to ensure that Zoya didn’t die.
As it happens, the ideal solution was a pretty straightforward one. “With this single cub, we knew that the best scenario for her was to find an opportunity for her to grow up with other tigers,” said the zoo’s COO, Dr. Andrew Baker.
Amazingly, such an opportunity soon presented itself. The day before Zoya was born, a six-year-old Sumatran tiger called Lola had delivered three healthy male cubs at Oklahoma City Zoo. Fortune was, it seemed, staring zookeepers in Philadelphia in the face; surely this was a chance to give Zoya a new family.
So zoo workers made the necessary arrangements and sent the little cub on her way. It’s a fair old drive from Philadelphia to Oklahoma – more than 1,400 miles, in fact – but if the adoption plan worked, Zoya would have an excellent chance of growing to be a strong and healthy Siberian tiger.
Once Zoya arrived after her 20-hour trip, the tricky part of the plan began. The first step? Zookeepers at Oklahoma City Zoo had to fool their Sumatran tiger mom into thinking that Zoya was one of her own. Clearly, this kind of tiger adoption ruse was not going to be an easy one to pull off. In fact, it has only ever been successful once before – and that time the tigers were of the same subspecies.
But nothing ventured, nothing gained. And despite being different types of tigers, according to Eddie Witte from Oklahoma City Zoo, the cubs would have looked the same. While it wouldn’t be the easiest of tasks, then, the adoption was certainly possible.
The scene was thus set. The three brother cubs remained in the tiger den being nursed by their mother, Lola. Meanwhile, their nine-year-old father, Kami, was out in the zoo’s Cat Forest, perhaps being admired by visitors to the attraction. All staff could do now was sit tight.
As it happens, the game-plan was quite simple. The first part involved waiting until Lola went to eat, leaving her three cubs alone. That’s when staff put part two into action: placing Zoya into the enclosure and rubbing her in hay and urine from the floor of the den. The idea was that she would have the same scent as Lola’s Sumatran cubs.
Subsequently, the mom returned to her babies to find the extra addition. Video footage caught the moment she entered and looked curiously at her litter, perhaps confused by the new arrival. Staff were on tenterhooks. “Everybody just had their breath held,” said Witte.
So zookeepers would have likely let out a sigh of relief when Lola seemed to accept Zoya. The video shows the mom standing over the newcomer before proceeding to lick the little cub. Later, Lola is shown nursing all four cubs in the corner of their den.
In the moving footage, the young cubs are seen huddled together while feeding. The mother tiger also appears to be gentle and patient with all four of them. Indeed, a casual observer would likely never have guessed that Zoya was a different subspecies to the others.
Alongside her new brothers, Zoya remained indoors for several weeks. During this time, the cubs were able to bond with their mother. The foursome naturally continued to grow until they were ready to roam further and discover the great outdoors.
Many said staff at each zoo should be congratulated for prioritizing Zoya’s welfare. Because, as Dr. Rebecca Snyder, curator of conservation and science at Oklahoma City Zoo, said, “Every cub is important for the species’ survival.”
But one burning question still remained: was Zoya finally with a mom who wouldn’t reject her? Well, the signs were certainly looking that way when Witte shared some promising news. Lola was indeed an “incredible mom,” he said.
There are wider arguments concerning animal welfare, but here it seems that two zoos contributed to the conservation of a species. And with fewer than 500 Siberian tigers thought to be living in the wild, the two zoos’ efforts in finding Zoya a new home should arguably be applauded. Hopefully, she and her brothers can continue to flourish there.