An aardvark in Cincinnati is sharing his mother's milk—with scientists in Washington. Ali the aardvark is mother to Winsol, who in late December became the zoo's first healthy aardvark newborn since 1994. Cincinnati Zoo staffers draw milk samples from the 13-year-old mom every Friday, then send them to the Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington and the Smithsonian's Exotic Animal Milk Repository. The repository has some 15,000 samples from 185 species, but last received aardvark milk in 1992, reports the AP. There aren't a lot of opportunities as there aren't many aardvarks in captivity, and the milking itself is tricky business. The milk contributes data for creating milk alternatives for animal babies. The regular collection allows researchers to analyze the milk's composition and record changes.
Artificial recipes tailored for specific periods in the nursing cycle can be critical to zoos that must hand-raise a newborn animal that's unable to feed from its mother. Indeed, the Cincinnati Zoo benefited from Smithsonian research in feeding Fiona, a premature hippo born Jan. 24, 2017, at a dangerously low 29 pounds. She was unable to stand to feed from her mother, Bibi. "They sent milk to us so that we could analyze it, so that we could send that information back to their nutritionist, so that their nutrition staff and keepers staff could come up with a formula that was as close as possible to be able to fit mother's milk for Fiona," recounted scientist Michael Power of the Smithsonian's Conservation Biology Institute. It worked: The young hippo has thrived.