Unexpected new arrival christened at Prague zoo

11-08-2003

The Prague zoo became one of the symbols of last year's floods, its plight made international headlines after its lower half was completely flooded and staff battled frantically to save as many animals as possible. While over 1,000 animals were moved to safety, around ten big mammals and an estimated 80 birds were lost. The hero among the victims was a 12-year-old seal named Gaston who escaped from his pool with a wave of floodwater and swam around 120 kilometres down the swollen Vltava and Elbe rivers. He was recaptured in Germany five days later, but died from shock and exhaustion. However, to the zookeepers' great surprise, many months after Gaston's escape, his mate Bara gave birth to a daughter - who was christened at the zoo on Sunday.

Abiba, photo: CTKAbiba, photo: CTK As if he had known what was coming, Gaston, a father of seven at the time, had conceived his eighth child before the fatal floods without anyone having the slightest idea - except the mother, of course. As seals are quite plump animals, even Bara's keepers had not noticed anything until a little female seal was born in June.

"We chose the name Abeba which means "flower" in an African language," says one of the seal keepers who carried little Abeba, a wet, black, whiskered creature, the size of a small dog, while she was christened on Sunday in front of a huge crowd that gathered around the seal pool despite the scorching heat."

"We are baptising Gaston's daughter Abeba. Please open the champagne, and I am kindly asking our guests to wish her all the best."

The zoo's director Petr Fejk was among the many who worked night and day to try and evacuate as many animals as possible during the disastrous August days. A few animals which were beyond rescue had to be put down - and Petr Fejk describes that as the most tragic moments of his life. Understandably, the unexpected new arrival was welcomed by all in the zoo with great emotion.

Abiba, photo: CTKAbiba, photo: CTK "At a time when according to calculations no pregnancy of any female seal was possible, Gaston's child was born after an unusually long pregnancy - that is more than ten months. Under certain conditions, seals have this ability to slow down the growth of the foetus by as many as two months which is exactly what happened. No one else could have conceived the child, so Abeba really is Gaston's daughter. It is a great gift from Gaston and we decided to mark the first anniversary of the floods by the christening of this animal."

A year after the devastating floods, the Prague zoo has been restored much to its original state and welcomes keen visitors who have helped the zoo to recover over the year with their donations, by buying the zoo's souvenirs, by volunteer work or just by coming there in large numbers to see the animals and events like Sunday's christening ceremony.

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