Here's Dobby, a Baby Aardvark Named for the Beloved 'Harry Potter' Character

Conservationists are hand-feeding the calf to help out mom.

aardvark baby Dobby with mom
Dobby snuggles with mom, Oni.

Chester Zoo

The new baby has huge, drooping ears, pink, wrinkled skin, and massive claws. And everyone around him thinks he's breathtaking.

Born at the Chester Zoo in the United Kingdom, the aardvark calf has been snuggling with mom Oni, who is 8 years old, and dad Koos, who is 6. The little one has been nicknamed Dobby, for his resemblance to the "Harry Potter" house elf.

The calf's gender is not yet known. Keepers have been hand-feeding the little one every few hours overnight to help it grow and get stronger.

“Aardvark parents are notorious for being a little clumsy around their newborns. With the baby being so tiny and fragile, we’re therefore protecting it from any accidental knocks and bumps by helping mum out with supplementary feeding sessions throughout the night, just until the calf is a little stronger," Dave White, the zoo's team manager, said in a statement.

"So, in the evening, when the parents are out exploring and feeding, we carefully place the calf into a special incubator and take it home to feed with warm milk every few hours. The calf then spends the daytime bonding and snuggled up with mum Oni inside her burrow—and they’re both doing great together.”

Secretive Creatures

Dobby the baby aardvark

Chester Zoo

According to Chester Zoo, there are just 66 aardvarks in zoos across Europe, and only 109 in zoos worldwide. This is the first aardvark to be born at the zoo in the organization's 90-year history.

“Aardvarks are quite secretive creatures, which are mostly only ever active in darkness, and so some aspects of how they go about their lives remain relatively unknown. Caring for species like aardvarks in zoos enables us to learn more about them—how they live, their behaviours and their biology. All of this information is then shared with other leading conservation zoos and helps to better inform our efforts to preserve their numbers," said Mark Brayshaw, curator of mammals at Chester Zoo.

"This new calf joins a conservation breeding programme that only a handful of zoos are part of globally.”

Understanding Aardvark Populations

Dobby aardvark sleeping

Chester Zoo

With their short necks, long head, and long body, aardvarks look like anteaters, but they're not related. Instead, they're more closely related to African elephants. They are found in a broad range of habitats in sub-Saharan Africa.

Aardvarks are picky eaters known for eating termites. They are mostly solitary animals that get together primarily for mating.

Aardvarks are listed as a species of least concern by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. The IUCN does not have current population figures, but points out that, "In eastern, central, and western Africa, numbers may be declining as a result of the expansion of human populations, the destruction of habitat, and hunting for meat."

A 2017 study published in Biology Letters also found that aardvarks may face population declines due to drought, an indirect effect of climate change.

The researchers wrote: "Our results do not bode well for the future of aardvarks facing climate change. Extirpation of aardvarks, which play a key role as ecosystem engineers, may disrupt stability of African ecosystems."

View Article Sources
  1. Chester Zoo, "Meet Dobby: the first aardvark born at the zoo in 90 years."

  2. African Wildlife Foundation, "Aardvark."

  3. IUCN Red List, "Aardvark."

  4. Rey, Benjamin, Fuller, Andrea, et al. "Drought-induced starvation of aardvarks in the Kalahari: an indirect effect of climate change." Biology Letters, vol. 13, no. 7, 2017. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2017.0301