New Suffolk Punch arrival at Banham Zoo

Part of East Anglia's farming heritage has received a boost following the birth of a rare-breed heavy horse at Banham Zoo.

Keepers welcomed their first Suffolk Punch arrival of the year after a mare, born at the attraction six years ago, gave birth to her first foal.

The new addition, named Bazoo Xavier, and mother, Bazoo Roxanne, are set to go on show to visitors next month following the birth on February 27.

The arrival brings the number of Suffolk Punches at Banham Zoo up to nine, which has kept the rare-breed horses for the last 17 years.

The species is the oldest breed of heavy horse in Great Britain, dating back to the 16th century, and was once a common sight across the region's farms.

But there are currently only 480 pure bred Suffolks registered with the Suffolk Horse Society after numbers dwindled as a result of agriculture becoming more and more mechanised over the 1940s, 50s and 60s.

Matt Bundock, head horseman at Banham Zoo, said the species was beginning to recover as a result of conservation efforts after only 280 were registered in 1996.

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He added that the zoo was becoming a trusted breeder of Suffolk Punch horses after witnessing the birth of ten foals over the years. Each year, just 40 to 50 Suffolk foals are born across the country.

'It is our living heritage. Once the last Suffolk Punch dies it goes the way of the mammoth and dodo and can never come back. It has taken hundreds of years to produce this magnificent animal and it would be a great shame if it died out. It is our role to look after rare and endangered species and it is part of East Anglia's heritage,' he said.

Mr Bundock, who exhibits the heavy horses for living history farming displays, said the new arrival was 'coming on leaps and bounds' and should be on view to the public by Easter.

'It is very rewarding. If you are in the middle of a field talking to a tractor, people tend to stay away, but with a horse, people come up and start talking to you,' he said.