THEY are counting them in two by two.

From the smallest beetle to the tallest giraffe, keepers at Hampshire’s Marwell Wildlife are busy counting the animals for one of the strangest stocktakes.

All creatures great and small at the zoo near Colden Common have to be counted for their annual audit.

Once the keepers have the final totals, a registrar will produce a report showing how many animals have been born or died or moved in or out within the past year, as well as how many animals currently live there.

Although the report is as accurate as it can be, some of the smallest creatures, such as ants, are impossible to count and keepers have to estimate how many there are from their knowledge of the species.

Every zoo in the country has to count their animals every year and produce a report as part of their licence.

.As well as being able to show inspectors the report, the audit also helps keepers understand more about how well breeding programmes are working and how much money is likely to be spent on food, bedding and medicine throughout the next year.

More than 1,700 animals across 188 species live at the zoo including 32 penguins, 12 giraffes and three rhinos.

Marwell has seen a number of new arrivals this year, including two baby giraffes, Ruby and Olympia, two or three penguins and five scimitar horned oryx, which are very rare.

The rarest species at the zoo are partula snails, of which Marwell has nearly half the world’s population.

John Pullen, curator of mammals at Marwell, said: “I think for most of the keepers it’s quite enjoyable but there are a couple of creatures that are a lot harder to count, like the bats.

“Some animals are very easy to count like giraffes and tigers, but some are more difficult, like the leaf cutter ants.

“The sebas bats are particularly hard to count as are the love birds as we have nearly 100.”

Dr Miranda Stevenson is the executive director of BIAZA, the national professional body offering advice and guidance on all aspects of zoo management. She said: “The annual stock take is a big job so January is a busy time of year for many zoos across the UK.

“It may be easy to count two tigers, but more patience is required when it comes to 90 black and white Gentoo penguins which all look similar or playful meerkats that won’t stand still.”