Zookeepers at ZSL London Zoo have thrown a celebratory party for one of their oldest residents, as ‘Woolly’ the woolly-necked stork is officially recognised as the longest-living on record.
The celebrations come as international conservation charity ZSL (Zoological Society of London) continues its urgent campaign to raise much-needed funds to secure the future of ZSL London and Whipsnade Zoos and its global science and conservation work - as the zoos are forced to remain closed under lockdown restrictions.
Zookeepers celebrated the official confirmation that Woolly, who recently turned 32 years old, has surpassed the record for the oldest woolly-necked stork in any zoo, smashing the previously-recorded age of 30 years and 2 months - demonstrating the iconic Zoo’s exemplary veterinary expertise and animal care.
Wearing colourful party hats, the team took it in turns to celebrate with Woolly in the Zoo’s African Aviary this week, offering her some of her favourite treats while inviting her over for her regular weigh-in – a key way for keepers to monitor her health.
“Woolly has been at London Zoo for 25 years and is a firm feathery favourite with the whole bird team,” said zookeeper Zoe Bryant. “She has magnificent purple plumage under her white, woolly neck - we all think she looks incredible for her age!
“We thought it only right we celebrate this landmark record with a little socially-distanced party for Woolly – I called her over to the scales for a quick weight check, before rewarding her with a rodent snack. We’re pleased to report she remains in perfect health.”
A tropical species founds across wetland areas in Africa and Asia, woolly-necked storks (Ciconia episcopus) are classified as Vulnerable in the wild due to habitat loss and hunting and have an average lifespan of 20 years.
Woolly lives at London Zoo with her ‘toyboy’ partner Wilf: 24 years her junior, Wilf arrived at the Zoo in 2013 as a new companion for the friendly female, after her previous mate passed away. Woolly-necked storks are monogamous by nature.
“While ZSL’s world-leading veterinary and animal care is responsible for Woolly’s great health, Wilf is definitely responsible for keeping her young at heart.
“We just wish we could have celebrated Woolly’s amazing achievement with our visitors, many of whom are huge Woolly fans – we've now been closed for more than two months, an unprecedented period of time which has put the Zoo in a very difficult position.”
ZSL’s Director General Dominic Jermey said: “We’re delighted that Woolly is now a world-record holder, thanks to ZSL’s world-leading expertise in animal care.
“Milestones such as these are sadly tainted by the fact our visitors cannot celebrate them with us. We find it simply bizarre that we have been told not to reopen ZSL London and Whipsnade Zoo to the public, despite having explained to government in great detail how we have redesigned the whole experience at our zoos to make them COVID-secure.
“Our zoos will look, feel and be safe, with a whole range of measures introduced – including additional handwashing facilities and sanitiser stations across the open air spaces of our zoos, fun & engaging wayfinders, 2m distance markers laid out in exhibits and one-way routes introduced to manage the flow of visitors safely.
“ZSL’s zoos should be part of the solution to COVID, providing COVID-secure outdoor experiences where a population emerging from lockdown can visit with confidence; instead, the longer we stay closed, the less likely we are to survive the lockdown.”
Jermey added: “Just as we remained open during WW2 to boost public morale, we believe that our zoos have a vitally uplifting role to play during these still-challenging times - safely connecting people to the natural world.”
ZSL still needs urgent support to keep our two zoos running smoothly, our scientists investigating wildlife diseases such as Covid-19, and our conservationists working in the field to protect vulnerable species like woolly-necked storks.