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Sitatunga calf born in U.K. zoo

A zoo in the U.K. recently welcome a baby sitatunga into their ranks. Photo courtesy of Marwell Zoo
A zoo in the U.K. recently welcome a baby sitatunga into their ranks. Photo courtesy of Marwell Zoo

Aug. 25 (UPI) -- A U.K. zoo is heralding the arrival of a new member to the family -- a baby sitatunga calf.

The Marwell Zoo near Hampshire, U.K., announced Thursday that the baby sitatunga had been born on in late July to mother Violet and father Tumnus.

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The baby is being affectionately nicknamed Thistle by zookeepers, as its sex is not yet known.

The zoo said that the differences between male and female sitatungas become more apparent as they age, with males typically developing darker coats and spiraled horns.

Zoo officials also posted a series of pictures of Thistle on Twitter, showing him hanging out in his enclosure with one of his parents .

Sitatungas are swamp-dwelling antelopes native to the African continent, according to the Smithsonian's National Zoo.

Their range is mostly restricted to central, eastern and southern Africa, particularly in areas with dense forests and vegetation.

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They have become popular zoo attractions and animals on social media due to their oversized floppy ears and large eyes.

The sitatunga is a naturally shy animal, which has helped it stay safe from predators.

While the sitatunga is still rated as a "least concern" species on the IUCN conservation list, their populations have been dwindling, according to the zoo.

As human development continues to press across Africa, sitatunga numbers have been decreasing in more highly populated areas. This has also presented an issue given that many of these developments are being created near wetlands, an area where the animal is most often found.

These wetlands are being increasingly drained to make room for human habitats, often forcing sitatungas off of their land.

According to the Smithsonian, the sitatunga is also being increasingly over-hunted for its .

Efforts to maintain the animal have been seen, and since 1999, approximately 40% of wild sitatungas lived in protected areas, according to the zoo.

However, this was attributed more to low levels of human interference than active conservation.

Despite these challenges, high numbers of the animal still remain.

The African Wildlife Foundation estimates that there are approximately 170,000 wild sitatungas, are there are likely thousands more in zoos around the world.

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