Chief Executive’s Blog

December 19, 2014 § Leave a comment


Things have been very festive week at both Highland Wildlife Park and Edinburgh Zoo this week.

HWP_MuskOxBOEUFF_CreditJanMorseAt the Park, Boeuf, the six month old muskox, was surprised with special festive enrichment – papier-mâché Christmas puddings. First of all, I must say a big thank you to the staff and volunteers who spent hours building up papier-mâché balls, then painting them to such a high standard. Boeuf and his parents, dad Myse and mum Karin, kicked and head butted the enrichment about the enclosure and Myse appeared to take great pleasure in completely destroying the pudding. It is wonderful to see the family together as Boeuf is a real success story for the Park. Muskox are notoriously difficult to breed due to high neonatal mortality rates and a low tolerance to parasites. Wet weather can also make calves in particular susceptible to pneumonia.

Christmas also arrived early for giant panda Tian Tian who received a panda cake in the shape of a Christmas tree and topped with a carrot star. Panda cake is a firm favourite with both Tian Tian and Yang Guang and is a special nutritional supplement they receive daily as part of their regular diet. Keepers placed the cake on her climbing frame (in an area she wouldn’t usually receive food) as an added enrichment for her. Tian Tian wandered and sniffed about the enclosure before finally finding the cake. She climbed up beside it and gently lifted the star from the top before eating the whole cake. You can watch it all here:

There was more excitement at the Giant Panda Experience this week as it was announced that Edinburgh Zoo has been nominated for two prizes at the Giant Panda Zoo Awards 2014. Yang Guang has been nominated for “Favourite Panda Outside of China” and one of his keepers, Michael Livingstone, has been nominated for the “Panda Keeper of the Year” award. Panda fans and experts from around the world are invited to vote for their favourites at:

Wild About Scotland Bus

Wild About Scotland Bus

To round up the week and truly symbolise the start of the Christmas holidays, the specially designed ‘Wild about Scotland’ educational bus has just finished its first term on the road. Since its launch at St Paul’s Primary School, Whiteinch on 29 August, the bus has travelled 2377 miles to visit 53 primary schools, and welcomed on-board a massive 1,918 eager to learn pupils! The interactive classroom has been developed by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) and brought to life by a partnership with Clydesdale Bank.

As I sign off for 2014, I wish you all the very best of wishes for the festive season and the new year ahead.

Great things are done by a series of small things brought together

~ Vincent Van Gogh

Going Wild about Scotland through November

December 18, 2014 § Leave a comment

Wild about Scotland in Stranraer at the Clydesdale Bank

Wild about Scotland in Stranraer at the Clydesdale Bank

The ‘Wild about Scotland’ Educational Bus’ third month on the road has come to a close. A partnership with Clydesdale Bank, the interactive classroom visited 17 schools over the month – they started down in Dumfries and Galloway, then made their way up to Perth and Kinross before continuing to Angus. Along the way, the bus stopped at Glamis Castle and a couple of Clydesdale branches.

Wild about Scotland at Glamis Castle

Wild about Scotland at Glamis Castle

Throughout the month, the bus engaged 420 students with native Scottish wildlife. The winter weather began to set in over November and many of the little creatures for the mini-beast lessons went into hibernation. In the middle of November, the mini-beast session was replaced with our ‘Beavers & Wildcats’ programme for the winter months. The ‘Beavers’ lesson encourages children to consider what they have learnt about the mammal and decide whether they would like it to be re-introduced or not. ‘Wildcats’ looks at the threats facing the Scottish wildcat, how to identify the species and what can be done to protect it..

This programme has been very popular with the children of Colliston Primary School:

“It was fun to see how hard it is to build a dam for a beaver.”
“I liked the skulls best.”
“The bus is cool!”

Leopard slugMini-beast of the Month’:

Leopard slug

This slug was found by Kelloholm Primary School, Dumfries and Galloway.

Did you know that Leopard Slugs have a small disc of shell inside their body? Most slugs evolved from snails and this disc is a remnant shell.

BrodieKnowsBestBrodie Knows Best!

Brodie the toy beaver is the bus mascot and helps children learn all about beavers and their habitat

To get ready for winter beavers start food caching (hoarding) which they store under the water (to keep it fresh) close to their lodge – like storing it in a refrigerator!

Driver-with-antlersFrom the Driver’s Seat….

Each month our ‘Wild about Scotland’ bus driver David gives you a wee insight into what it’s like to drive our double decker the length and breadth of Scotland.

“Inchture Primary School, 28 November – the day I refused the Head Teacher entry to her own school!

“I had successfully got through the schools’ security system to enter the building and was now leaving again via the security doors, when a young lady (a total stranger to me) walks past me to enter the school. I stop her from entering and ask her who she was and the purpose of her visit as she could have been anyone and the security system is there for a reason. Her reply “I am the Head teacher here, this is my school”! I apologised and explained the reason for my stance. She paused for thought then thanked me for doing the right thing… How was I to know?!”

Top Teacher Comments and Tweets

“A member of our group who has complex issues and does not always find school easy was fully engaged in all the activities, the pupil even asked questions and said ‘This is amazing!’ High praise indeed!”- Coupar Angus Primary

“All the pupils enjoyed the tasks at all the stations but the wildcat skulls and beaver tracks were especially popular and captured the imagination of our pupils. Excellent presenters who involved all pupils throughout.” – Alyth Primary School

“The practical session followed by investigative work was successful because children were motivated and engaged throughout. The session made effective use of the school wildlife garden.” –Creetown Primary School

Next Month – December

The bus heads for:

North Ayrshire, East Ayrshire, Perth & Kinross, East Dunbartonshire, Edinburgh City and West Lothian.

Chief Executive’s Blog

December 12, 2014 § Leave a comment

Romain Pizzi - RZSS Veterinary Surgeon

On Monday at Edinburgh Zoo, Romain Pizzi, veterinary surgeon at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, carried out a talk on the wonders of wildlife surgery as part of a global series of Café Scientifique events. The idea behind these events is to make the latest ideas in science and technologies readily accessible for the public. Romain spoke about his experience performing surgery in remote, wild locations and the challenges he has faced trying to provide post-operative care. It is often impossible to rest a wild animal after surgery; for example, aquatic animals need to be returned to the water immediately after surgery and intelligent animals, such as chimpanzees, are able to remove sutures and interfere with open wounds. All in all, an interesting talk which reminds us of the complexity of the animal kingdom.

Great news from Dr. Ross McEwing who is the Wildlife Programme Manager for RZSS in South East Asia. A new website for the Karen Wildlife Conservation Initiative in Burma ( is now up and running. RZSS is one of the organisations involved in the project which was established in 2012 to conserve the biodiversity hotspot and its threatened wildlife as the area undergoes political reform. Military conflict has made the state inaccessible to poachers and illegal wildlife traders, meaning it is one of the few remaining regions in the world with a full component of top predators and an extensive prey base to support it.

Walker and Arktos celebrate their birthday

There were celebrations this week at Highland Wildlife Park as polar bears Walker and Arktos enjoyed their sixth and seventh birthdays with a joint party. Keepers made frozen birthday cakes for the two bears – carrots, fruit, hazelnuts and sardines frozen in circular blocks of ice – which were tied to trees in the enclosure. Walker was straight into the cakes and tore them down from the trees, then pounced and clawed at them to get to the food inside. Arktos eventually got into the cakes, but was more distracted by the fresh snow on the ground which, not only added to the picturesque polar scene, but was added enrichment for the bears as they rolled about in it. A well-timed extra piece of birthday enrichment!

At Edinburgh Zoo, things got festive at Penguins Rock at the beginning of this week. On Monday, keepers traded their Penicuik caps for Santa hats for the daily Penguin Parade to help raise awareness of the Great Edinburgh Santa Family Fun Run and Walk 2014 organised by charity When You Wish Upon A Star. The red hats kept their ears warm and added a bit of Christmas cheer to the Penguin Parade.

The birds then received a winter’s treat on Tuesday as keepers emptied buckets of icy snow into Penguins Rock for them to waddle through and act as an environmental enrichment. The curious birds were straight over and scooped up the ice in their beaks, as well as slipping and sliding on the enrichment. Keepers even joined in the festive fun and created a snow penguin which had sprats for eyes and a nose – penguin beaks quickly picked these out. Then on Thursday, fresh snow fell from the sky and turned Penguins Rock momentarily into a scenic winter wonderland covered in little footprints from the birds.

Wherever you go, no matter what the weather, always bring your own sunshine.

~Anthony J. D’Angelo

Chief Executive’s Blog

December 5, 2014 § Leave a comment

This week we entered December and a thin layer of frost was seen at both Edinburgh Zoo and Highland Wildlife Park for the first time this winter. This turn in weather should signal to the red deer at Highland Wildlife Park that the end of the rutting season is near; a clear winning male has yet to be sighted in the herd.

Baby armadillo Rica

Baby armadillo Rica

Christmas came early this week for little Rica, the young three-banded armadillo at Edinburgh Zoo. On Monday she was delivered her first ever present by People’s Postcode Lottery – a smelly box of mealworms and ants which she immediately got her claws into.

The start of the festive season is also being celebrated online this week with our 12 Days of Christmas Facebook competition which is running until Monday 8 December. It’s a simple sweepstake competition where participants enter their email address in the designated box on the Facebook page to be in with a chance to win a wild prize every day. Winners will be picked out of a virtual Santa hat at random.

Our second Christmas Shopping Night will be held on Wednesday 10 December. As with the night a couple of weeks back, there will be exclusive discounts and the opportunity to meet Santa. Additional festive cheer will ring through the gift shop as the junior school choir from St George’s School for Girls will sing Christmas carols whilst you shop. Mulled wine and food for tasting will also be of plenty. More information at:

On Thursday, the students of RZSS’ Zoo and Environment Skills Training (ZEST) programme for this academic year took part in an enrichment day. If you are not familiar with the ZEST programme, it is a vocational opportunity for students aged 15-17 to undertake work experience across various departments in RZSS including gardens, discovery and learning, communications, fundraising, visitor services and working with the keepers. At the end of the eight month course successful students gain a recognised SQA (Scottish Qualifications Authority) qualification. All students enrolled in the ZEST programme this year were invited to spend time with members of the Zoo’s enrichment group where they were able to discover more about how enrichment is used at Edinburgh Zoo whilst making their own devices for animals such as sun bears, capuchin monkeys and Oriental short-clawed otters. For example, the students who were focussing on the otters carved out apples and turnips which they then stuffed with mice, nuts and apples. Keepers put these devices in the enclosure whilst the ZEST students stood with their clipboards and observed and monitored the behaviours displayed.

ZEST students on Enrichment Day

ZEST students on Enrichment Day

Dr Arnaud Desbiez, Latin America Coordinator for RZSS, went back out into the field on Tuesday as part of the regular expeditions of the RZSS Giant Armadillo Project. I’m sure you all read in my blog last week about how Arnaud has been observing Alex, the 17 month old giant armadillo, still sharing his mother’s territory– it was previously believed that young armadillos disperse from their mothers at six weeks of age. During the last expedition, Alex and his mother were sighted still sleeping together in the same burrow and have been caught playing together many times on the camera traps. It will be interesting to hear back from Arnaud when he returns in a few weeks to find out if Alex and his mother are still together.

photo by Arnaud Desbiez

photo by Arnaud Desbiez

In my blog last week I spoke about the publication of the independent scientific reports for the Scottish Beaver Trial (SBT) by Scottish Natural Heritage. Today, the final report for the SBT was published by partner organisations of the trial RZSS and the Scottish Wildlife Trust. The ground breaking report documents every part of the reintroduction process over the five year period and outlines all the findings and learnings of the trial. It is hoped the story will prove to be essential reading and form a template for future, similar reintroduction projects. You are able to read the report at

Develop a passion for learning. If you do, you will never cease to grow.

~Anthony J. D’Angelo

Chief Executive’s Blog

November 28, 2014 § Leave a comment


I wanted to tell you about the progress of the new development in preparation for the arrival of a female polar bear at Highland Wildlife Park. The walkway, which was built by the military, has now been fenced and construction has begun on the visitor viewing platform. From here, you face the huge female enclosure and can clearly see the part of the enclosure which can be fenced off and used for introductions of male polar bears during the breeding season. Combined, the enclosure is four acres. Groundwork is currently being undertaken in the area and the fence posts have been placed.

Photo by Alex Riddell

Photo by Alex Riddell

The Northern lynx cubs at Highland Wildlife Park, who were born in May, are now about two thirds of the size of an adult lynx and have recently been named. As part of the lynx’s range covers Finland, keepers felt it was only appropriate that our new Finnish carnivore keeper got the honour of naming the twins. The male cub has been named Ruska, which means ‘autumn colours’ in Finnish, and the female has been named Lumi, which means ‘snow’.

Great news from Arnaud Desbiez, RZSS Latin America Coordinator, who is stationed out in Brazil. Photos of Alex the baby giant armadillo, which were taken as part of RZSS’ Giant Armadillo Project in the Brazillian Pantanal, have been selected for the BBC Wildlife Camera-trap Photos of the Year 2014 – one photo was commended in the Rare species category and another was runner up in the new Behaviour category. It is wonderful to see these photos featured in the magazine as it is a great way of sharing the wonder and passion we all feel for the giant armadillo.

Photos can be seen at:


Recently, some of the discovery and learning team attended the 2014 SQA Star Awards in Glasgow and to our delight the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland received a highly commended for the Lifelong Learning Centre award – a recognition the team greatly deserved.

Edinburgh Zoo has been featured on the map of new mobile phone app called Habitat The Game ( which has been created by VisitScotland. It has been designed with young animal lovers in mind and teaches about environmental sustainability in a fun and age appropriate way. Players are invited to visit the real-life locations on the map to unlock various rewards.

If you are planning on visiting Edinburgh Zoo, stop by Living Links where you’ll be able to spot four squirrel monkey babies testing out their balance and learning the ropes as they begin to venture from their mother’s backs. The enthusiastic babies will one day contribute to ground breaking research at the facility. In case you are not familiar with the field station and research centre, Living Links is a partnership between the University of St Andrews and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland which supports studies by scientists affiliated with the Scottish Primate Research Group.

You will also see that things are beginning to look festive at Edinburgh Zoo; two penguins made out of Christmas lights are standing outside the Zoo and a real Christmas tree has been decorated and placed in the front reception area.

Courage is the capacity to confront what can be imagined.

~Leo Rosten

Chief Executive’s Blog

November 21, 2014 § Leave a comment


Beaver Kit by Phillip Rice

Beaver Kit by Phillip Rice

This week we were delighted to welcome, after five years of study, the publication of the Scottish Beaver Trial scientific reports by Scottish Natural Heritage. The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland was a key player in the trial which was a partnership with Scottish Wildlife Trust and was hosted by Forestry Commission Scotland. The Scottish Beaver Trial was the first ever licenced mammal reintroduction in the UK. European beavers were reintroduced to the Knapdale Forest, mid-Argyll after they were hunted to extinction there 400 years ago. The key findings of the reports will be presented to the Scottish Government to enable a Ministerial decision about the future of beavers in Scotland to be decided in 2015. The five year trial included 11,817 hours of scientific monitoring fieldwork which varied from tracking the beavers to water sampling and has engaged almost three million people about beaver ecology. In 2013, we were honoured that the project was named ‘Best Conservation Project in the UK’ by BBC Countryfile magazine.

greatgifts_relatedAs the weather begins to get colder, it signals that the festive period is nearly upon us. Next week, on Wednesday 26 November, the first Christmas shopping night will be held in the gift shop at Edinburgh Zoo. Children of all ages will be able to meet Santa in his grotto and a truly festive environment will take over the whole shop as there will be carol singers, food tastings and special discounts. More information can be found at:

During winter at the Zoo, our popular Animal Antics hilltop show is replaced with an activity in a warmer location and this year our presentations team are running storytelling sessions in the Rainforest Room of the Education Centre. I don’t want to give everything away, however it is an enlightening story with an important conservation message; it follows the journey of Chi Chi the giant panda as he travels through the mountains of China in search of more bamboo because his food source has declined. The story is a reflection of the actual conservation work taking place out in China.

Lasswade High School - China Trip with Jaguar Land Rover China

Lasswade High School – China Trip with Jaguar Land Rover China

Also earlier in the week, I was pleased to sight photos from the recent trip to China by school pupils of Lasswade High School, an experience which I have covered quite closely in previous blog posts and was made possible through a partnership with Jaguar Land Rover China. It is my pleasure to share a couple of these with you.

Lasswade students seeing a giant panda

Lasswade students seeing a giant panda

If you are visiting Highland Wildlife Park, look out for the young capercaillie who went on show last week.

Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher.

~William Wordsworth

Going Wild about Scotland through October

November 16, 2014 § Leave a comment

It was a second month of success for the ‘Wild about Scotland’ education bus!

Last month the specially designed interactive classroom, a partnership with Clydesdale Bank, made its way up to the Cairngorms, also fitting in trips to schools in the Central Belt and Stirling.

During the October holidays the bus visited Highland Wildlife Park, where it parked up for a full week. With the Cairngorms as a backdrop, the bus opened its doors to visitors of all ages to drop in and experience the unique learning environment.

Equipment for the Dam Building Challenge

Equipment for the Dam Building Challenge

Over 300 visitors to the Park took part in our ‘beaver dam challenge’. With a bundle of twigs, a shallow tray and a jug of water, the challenge was to see which dam could hold back the water for the longest – a smaller scale version of some of the activity that the re-introduced beavers have been getting up to in the Knapdale Forest, Argyll. The fun challenge was used to highlight The Scottish Beaver Trial – a partnership project between RZSS, SWT and Forestry Commission Scotland. We hope visitors were able to learn more about the life and work of beavers and how important they are as nature’s environmental engineers.

During the rest of the month, the bus visited 14 schools, even helping six of these schools work towards their third Eco-School Green Flag. At these schools in particular, the ‘Wild about Scotland’ lessons were a welcomed addition to the curriculum already in place, allowing pupils to relate what they are learning in the traditional classroom environment to Scottish conservation.                                                                                                         

Here are some quotes from teachers this month:

“Our current P4-7 learning context is ‘pollution’ so the sessions fitted well.”

“One of our class topics is Australia – it was ideal to compare animals in each country.”

“It was great to see our outdoors used so efficiently!”

Even though the nights are getting longer, leaves are falling and winter has arrived, there are still a few of the more resilient mini-beasts roaming through the gardens. This month, bus mascot Brodie the Beaver has paw picked this creepy crawly as his ‘Mini-beast of the Month’:

Centipede‘Mini-beast of the Month’: Centipede 

This little critter was discovered by pupils at Buchanan Primary School near Loch Lomond.

Did you know that in order to grow, centipedes shed their hard exoskeleton? Pictured here is one that was found emerging from its old exoskeleton.

BrodieKnowsBestBrodie Knows Best! Top Tip

Brodie the toy beaver is the bus mascot and helps children learn all about beavers and their habitat

Did you know that by building dams beavers can actually help reduce the risk of flooding lower down in river systems? They moderate the flow of water and can also benefit biodiversity by raising the water table locally, creating small wetland areas.

Bus Driver DavidFrom the Driver’s Seat….

Each month our ‘Wild about Scotland’ bus driver David gives you a wee insight into what it’s like to drive our double decker the length and breadth of Scotland.

At the bus wash!!

At the bus wash!!

“The wet weather of Scottish winters has begun, but you certainly won’t see any muddy footprints on the bus! Apart from driving the bus, it’s also my responsibility to make sure the bus is clean and looking it’s best before the children hop on board. At the end of the day and between every lesson I spend ten minutes sweeping and mopping both floors of the bus, and of course the spectacular waterfall staircase. I also make sure the outside of the bus is clean too so that when I am driving past people on the street they can appreciate the beautiful photos of Scottish wildlife which decorate the bus – you may be surprised to find out that I even take the bus through a bus wash from time to time!

I have to be very careful when driving the bus into school car parks – sometimes it can be a little bit of a tight squeeze! When I arrive outside each school I park up the bus then rummage through my tool box to find my trusty measuring tape. I then measure the distance between the gate pillars to make sure they are over 9 foot apart. The bus is 8 foot wide (not including the mirrors) so I know that if I swing the bus round to be square on then I can just squeeze through the gates. School gates aren’t generally built with the access of a double decker bus in mind! The strangest place we have had to park up this month, due to not being able to fit on the school grounds was on our visit to Deanston Primary School near Doune. Local Deanston Distillery offered up their car park and we were able to host the lesson there.”

Top Tweets from October:

‏@CorntionPrimary1 – Cornton Primary School, 21 October – “The Wild about Scotland bus are visiting P5 and 6 this week!

@deanstonmalt – Deanston Distillery, Oct 22 – “@WildaboutScot our pleasure, great to see you and be able to support. Not often we have a ‘Wild Bus’ in the car park! #wildaboutscotland”

In reply to:

@WildaboutScot – Wild about Scotland, Oct 22 – “Massive thanks to Deanston Distillery @deanstonmalt for letting us use their car park! #wildaboutscotland #rzss”

@p45_boreps – Primary 4/5 at Borestone Primary School, Oct 25 – “A hint for pupils wondering about Tuesday’s surprise. We’re on the map. 4 days to go. #excited @WildaboutScot

@p45_boreps – Primary 4/5 at Borestone Primary School, Oct 28 – “I can identify different species and present data in a graph. Thanks @WildaboutScot P4/5 and P7 loved it.”

The bus at two of Stirling’s famous landmarks – Stirling Castle on the left and the Wallace Monument on the right.

The bus at two of Stirling’s famous landmarks.
Stirling Castle on the left and the Wallace Monument on the right.

Twitterlogo@WildaboutScot     #WildaboutScotland       #RZSS



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