A KEEPER at Knowsley Safari Park is all set for a Christmas with a difference - after becoming a foster mum to an antelope calf!
Rachel Pilling, of St Helens, will have to lay another place at the dinner table this Christmas after becoming a surrogate mum to two-week-old Pip, a roan antelope.
The young calf needs plenty of TLC too after being snubbed by her mother, Onion - not to mention round-the-clock feeds of full-fat cow’s milk.
Pip’s problems began earlier this month when she was born on one of the chilliest nights of the year.
As it was too cold for such a young calf to survive in the open, keepers were forced to step in to warm her up and give her a vital first feed.
But, by the time she was strong enough to be returned to Onion, the older roan did not recognise the calf as her own and ignored her.
Encouragingly, though, Pip is now doing well enough to go through the night between feeds.
And Rachel is no stranger to hand-rearing either - she has previously fostered both an ankole cattle calf and a baby camel!
She said: “Hand rearing is always a last resort here at the park because once animals have the human imprint on them, it can be quite difficult for them to rejoin their own kind.
“However, as the roans will all be together in a heated house over the cold winter months, we have high hopes that she will be able to reintegrate with them successfully by the spring.
“In the meantime, I’ve got rather an interesting Christmas to look forward to. Perhaps Pip and I can watch Bambi together.”
Roan antelope are Knowsley Safari Park’s newest attraction, with three females joining the collection earlier this year from Marwell Wildlife Park near Winchester.
Keepers believe that all of them were pregnant when they arrived, so two more Pips could soon be on the way.
Roans are one of Africa’s largest breeds of antelope, and are renowned for being very courageous animals.
If threatened by a predator - including lions - they will confront them with their scimitar-shaped horns.