IT IS a feat which would have had Noah quaking in his sandals.
The Biblical hero might have been able to gather two of every animal, but his task pales insignificance with the one zookeepers in Bristol are about to undertake.
For new year revellers the countdown came just before midnight on December 31.
Yet for the staff at Bristol Zoo Gardens it began yesterday, as they embarked on the mammoth annual task of counting all creatures great and small.
Bristol Zoo Gardens is home to more than 400 species, from meerkats to pygmy hippos, flamingos and seals and each year, the animals must be counted by keepers to verify computer audit records and check vulnerable populations are thriving.
Counting the zoo’s six western lowland gorillas is an easy task compared to adding up the colony of penguins and a school of fish, which are constantly on the move.
Each member of staff has their own challenge.
Jonny Rudd, assistant curator of the aquarium, has the job of counting more than 115 different species.
“Bristol Zoo has nearly 7,000 fish altogether,” Mr Rudd said.
“Tracking them and differentiating them is a real challenge, making the animal census a big job.”
The bird team has seen some significant breeding successes this past year, particularly with penguin chicks, of which 13 have hatched.
Eight white-winged ducklings and three Asian glossy starling chicks have also hatched for the first time at Bristol Zoo.
The duck species is endangered, with just 700 thought to now exist in the wild.
It has also been the zoo’s best year yet for breeding flamingo chicks, with 12 successful hatchings.
Other birds bred at the zoo include two Azure winged magpies, which were hand reared and four Socorro doves, which are now extinct in the wild.
Four Palawan peacock pheasants and 29 inca terns have also been bred.
John Partridge, senior curator of animals at the zoo, added: “The last 12 months have been very successful in terms of animal births at the zoo so the annual count is a big job again this year.
“However, it is an important task because it acts as an audit to check that our computer records are accurate.
“Our collection records are far more than a simple count - we know precise information on individual animals and groups, which we share with colleagues around the world to help care for our number one priority - the animals.”
The zoo runs 13 conservation programmes around the world to safeguard the future of specific species such as western lowland gorillas and Livingstone’s fruit bats.
Data from the census will be submitted to the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the national body offering advice and guidance on zoo management.
January also signals the big count for zookeepers closer to home.
Next week Yorkshire Wildlife Park, near Doncaster, will begin the painstaking work of counting its collection of around 500 animals.