July 26, 2021

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

The zoo needs a psychiatrist, someone is having an identity crisis and it’s not one of the keepers. It is a chicken called Claudio. Suspend your disbelief for a moment; there is a chicken in the zoo that thinks it’s a sheep. Not just any sheep, a Somali Sheep.

Chicks have 13-16 hours to imprint on the nearest object, normally the mother hen. But Claudio was born in Baby Zoo which is modelled on a farmyard.  It is therefore possible that during those crucial first hours, he saw not a chicken but a lamb.

When chickens leave the baby section the keepers allow them to roam free, so Claudio and his siblings had the run of the zoo. All seemed well at first, but after the third month the keepers started to notice that Claudio was being ostracised from the group. In fact to put it in human terms, he was being bullied. Three large male cockerels were the main culprits: Rocky, Ali and Martin Vargas.

No-one is completely sure how he found his way into the sheep enclosure, perhaps one day he was looking for somewhere to hide from his tormentors. However it happened, once inside he never left.  Claudio now eats with the sheep, sleeps with the sheep and has recently started trying to mate with the sheep. Go to the zoo on any regular day and you will see Claudio on his favourite perch, standing like a sentinel on a ewe’s back. Living peacefully, as part of the herd, seems to have given Claudio greater confidence, he has even started to win some of the fights against his persecutors. Since he’s doing no harm the keepers have wisely decided to leave him to it and so Claudio has been a sheep for seven months.

Over Christmas however, his world was turned upside down: the Somali Sheep were moved.

The intention was always to take the chicken with them but in all the commotion Claudio was left behind. It’s been about three weeks now and although the new enclosure is only a short walk away, Claudio hasn’t been able to find it. It seems that emergency action may be needed and the keepers have started planning the rescue, but the zoo is a busy place and it won’t be happening for a while.

A new love interest for Claudio?

In the meantime the chicken has been left to roam forlornly around his old home, or so the keepers thought. In the past week however, events have taken an even odder turn. Several of the keepers have seen Claudio trying to get in to the gazelle enclosure.Could it be that Claudio is looking for a new family? will he now reject the herd? Either way, whether Operation Claudio proves to be a success or if the zoo ends up with a new Thompson Gazelle, I will keep you posted.