March 7, 2014 § Leave a comment
Up at the Highland Wildlife Park, the wolverines Xale and Kirka are continuing to thrive in their new custom built enclosure and can usually be spotted charging around the 1.6 acres of hillside that it encompasses (as witnessed in this photograph, courtesy of Alex Riddell). We believe that this is the largest wolverine enclosure in Europe and quite possibly the world.
This week at Edinburgh Zoo we announced the birth of the Zoo’s first ever banteng calf, an excellent achievement as we have only held the animals for the past two years. The male, named Kala, is now four weeks old and doing very well. He can often be spotted cantering around in the large outdoor area of his enclosure, under the close watch of mother Leticia and father Tino. Although he is currently a beautiful golden colour like his mother, Kala (which means ‘black’) will gradually turn a very dark brown to match his father. Listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List, banteng are native to South East Asia, with hunting and habitat loss as the two biggest threats to the species. They are very close to becoming locally extinct in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. His birth is a positive step in helping towards the conservation of these endangered animals as well as educating visitors about their plight.
Also at the Zoo this week, nest rings and pebbles were placed in Penguins Rock for the annual gentoo breeding season. Visitors and staff alike were treated to the rather amusing spectacle of the birds all racing to the nest rings in an attempt to claim the best ones first – there was even a few flipper slap fights between two feisty females! There is a sense of ritualism in the mating behaviours of gentoo penguins, with males selecting their perfect pebble to present to their desired mate. The pebbles are then used to build nests within the rings and there is often a fair bit of pebble stealing between the birds. Sometimes the birds will return to the same mate year after year, or may select a new mate each season. It is also common to have same sex pairings – last year we had both a male only pairing and female only pairing. Snowflake, our leucistic gentoo, is very popular in particular! During mating season drama can break out at any time, with displays of courtship and affection, as well as jealously and aggression.
In an update from our conservation team, Arnaud Desbiez, Regional Coordinator for RZSS in Latin America, will be teaching a seminar at the ESCAS University in São Paulo Brazil on conservation decision making. Topics covered include conservation planning techniques, population viability analysis and how to apply and use the IUCN red listing criteria. Arnaud manages the Pantanal Giant Armadillo Project, which is the first long-term ecological study in the Brazilian Pantanal wetland.
Also on the topic of conservation, as part of celebrations for Fairtrade fortnight Edinburgh Zoo is holding Go Bananas for Fairtrade this Saturday 8th March from 11am until 3pm. The event will be held at the Budongo Trail where visitors will be able to watch our chimpanzees enjoy Fairtrade bananas kindly donated to us by Sainsbury’s Longstone as well as hear talks from two Nepalese Fairtrade producers about how they make handmade paper from waste materials such as banana fibre, straw and recycled paper. They will also talk about why Fairtrade is important, not only to local communities, but also for the environment. The event is being run in partnership with the Edinburgh City Fairtrade Group, and this year, Fairtrade fortnight is focusing on the difficulties faced by banana growers. Over the past 10 years, prices of bananas in the UK have halved, while the cost of production has doubled – by purchasing Fairtrade bananas you are helping to ensure farmers receive a fair price for their work.
And finally I must welcome to the RZSS team Adam Naylor, who is our new veterinary resident for the European College of Zoological Medicine (Zoo Health Management). Adam was originally an intern at Bristol Zoo and he will be trained for three years by Simon Girling, Head of Veterinary Services for RZSS.
There is a sufficiency in the world for man’s need but not for man’s greed.
Mohandas K. Gandhi
February 28, 2014 § Leave a comment
As part of celebrations for International Polar Bear Day, which was on Thursday, Highland Wildlife Park’s resident bears Walker and Arktos were treated to two mini icebergs filled with frozen fish. The boys are very playful and loved pouncing and rolling on them in their pond! The enrichment also had a more serious purpose: to highlight to visitors the effects of climate change. Usually by this time of year there would be a decent covering of snow across the Park, however, so far we have been snow-free for almost the entire winter.
Unlike many other animals, polar bears in the wild thrive in winter and fast through summer. The loss of sea ice is affecting their ability to hunt, which means they are struggling to put down enough fat to survive the summer fast. Climate change is without a doubt the biggest factor contributing to a decline in the wild polar bear population.
In other exciting news from the Park, the Cairngorms Super Seven group (of which we are a member) conducted a recent survey found that 100 per cent of visitors vow to return and would recommend the Cairngorms area to other people. Furthermore, 85 per cent are already repeat visitors and 67 per cent come to the area at least once per year. These results are fantastic and reflect the feedback we regularly receive from visitors to Highland Wildlife Park. It is a testament regarding the high quality of service and unique experience offered by attractions within the Cairngorms, which itself is one of Scotland’s most stunning landscapes.
Back at Edinburgh Zoo, this week we announced our new partnership with Penicuik Home Improvements Ltd, who have become the first ever sponsor of our world famous Penguin Parade. As part of the partnership, Penicuik will be building a special interactive Eco Lodge at Edinburgh Zoo where visitors will be able to explore some of the energy saving devices available to modern homes, including solar panels, boilers and LED lighting. One of the key aims of RZSS is to raise awareness of the importance of sustainability and reducing the impact we as individuals have on the environment. Also, as a charity that receives no government funding, partnerships like this allow us even greater opportunity to carry out invaluable conservation, research and education projects around the world. We will also be working with Penicuik on several other developments over the next two years, including a major family day in September and several competitions including a very special ‘Exclusive Evening with the Penguins’ at the Zoo.
We also recently received a very special visitor to the Zoo. Legendary Newsround and Countryfile presenter John Craven visited the Zoo last week to see giant pandas Tian Tian and Yang Guang. During his visit John met with Darren McGarry, Head of Living Collections for the Zoo as well as Iain Valentine, Director of Giant Pandas and panda keeper Michael Livingstone and discussed his ongoing work with giant pandas in China. John was part of the first ever Western film crew to visit giant pandas in the Sichuan Province in 1986 and has since been made a Panda Ambassador for the Panda Conservation Centre in Chengdu. It was a real delight having John visit the Zoo and we hope to work with him on giant panda conservation projects in the near future.
In conservation news, as many of you will be aware RZSS is one of the key partners in the Scottish Beaver Trial, alongside the Scottish Wildlife Trust. The Trial, which has been running in Knapdale since 2009, is reaching the end of the five-year monitoring phase. As such, we are running public surveys to gauge people’s views on beavers in Scotland. If you can spare a moment, please fill out our online survey here https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/MTJ8ZWB.
Waste is a tax on the whole people.
~Albert W. Atwood
February 20, 2014 § 1 Comment
Here at Edinburgh Zoo we’ve been holding a Green Week this week. Visitors were able to take part in enrichment workshops and learn how to make enrichment devices for our animals. Animal enrichment is important as it helps to promote natural behaviours, such as problem solving or foraging, and helps to keep the animals engaged and entertained. Visitors have had the opportunity to learn about why this is so important and how it benefits the environment, whilst getting the chance to make their own enrichment device. They were then able to see their creation in action, with a keeper giving their toys to their chosen animal; here’s a photograph of one of our sun bears enjoying his:
Still at Edinburgh Zoo, I’ve got a lot of news from the bird team. The gentoo nest site at Penguins Rock has been undergoing a deep clean prior to the start of the annual breeding season. A new “nesting tree” has also been constructed by the gardens team and will hopefully be used by the scarlet ibis later on in the season. The Steller’s sea-eagles are using their new, improved nesting platform and the staff have been supplying the birds with branching to build their nest. Even though the female is too young to breed, the black stork pair in the enclosure next to the duck ponds have both been nest building on the platform created by the gardens staff, a really promising sign for the future. Last but not least, the male argus pheasant has been performing his spectacular courtship display quite frequently recently, but the female still appears fairly unimpressed! It’s still a little early in the year for the female to lay, so we may try splitting them off for a period to try to get them a bit more synchronised.
Out in Uganda, the Budongo Conservation Field Station (BCFS) has completed a pilot project aimed at assessing the challenges and opportunities for conservation of chimpanzees in an agricultural landscape. This degraded forest fragment, approximately 80m wide and 12km long, is surrounded by sugar cane fields and other agricultural crops. Over the past 15 months BCFS employed two field assistants who have been collecting data on the foraging and ranging pattern of the 32 chimpanzees in this forest fragment. Analysis of this data is in progress and we look forward to seeing the results, which I’m sure we can share with you.
To round off, I want to tell you about a lovely visit from Camstradden Primary School in Glasgow that’s taking place on Friday 21st February. As part of the build up to the Commonwealth Games, the school is bringing the Glasgow Schools Baton Relay to Penguins Rock. The Schools Baton Relay mirrors the countries visited by the Queen’s Baton, with over 70 schools and nurseries taking part. Each school is twinned with a particular country and receives the Schools Baton at the same time the Queen’s Baton arrives in their chosen country. Camstradden Primary School, which has been twinned with the Falkland Islands, decided to celebrate their turn carrying the Baton by bringing it to Edinburgh Zoo and learning about its gentoo, king and rockhopper penguins, all of which can be found in the Falklands; we’re delighted they thought of us!
“If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos”
~Edward O. Wilson
February 14, 2014 § Leave a comment
This week RZSS conservation staff attended the UK’s Government’s Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference, which was hosted by Prime Minister David Cameron. His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales was also in attendance, as well as senior government representatives from over 50 countries, with the purpose of spurring action to combat the growing threat to endangered wildlife and producing new and improved multi-lateral agreements to combat the illegal trade.
During the conference, the Gabonese president Ali Bongo Ondimba unveiled a new initiative aimed at helping to curb the poaching of African elephants for their ivory which utilises the genetic and forensic expertise from the RZSS and TRACE Wildlife Forensic Network.
Elephant poaching is on the increase in Africa as demand for ivory increases in some Asian countries. Statistics show that 96 elephants were killed every single day in 2012 and in 2013 large scale ivory movements were 20% higher than the previous peak in 2011. As part of this new initiative, bone and tissue fragments from elephant carcasses killed by poachers will be recovered and forensic DNA techniques utilised to produce unique profiles for subsequent matching against blood stained clothing or ivory recovered locally or in Asia.
I am delighted that RZSS will be involved in a project which bridges the gap between conservation genetics and wildlife DNA forensics, enabling the Gabon authorities to understand elephant population structure in its National Parks and apply this information to the fight against poaching.
In some light-hearted news from Edinburgh Zoo, the giant pandas are proving to be a real favourite with couples looking to have a more unusual setting for their marriage proposals. Tony Bradford, Visitor Experience Coordinator for Edinburgh Zoo, has helped arrange 35 proposal announcements at the panda enclosure since their arrival! The Zoo’s penguins also occasionally witness a marriage proposal. Edinburgh Zoo’s historic Mansion House is also a popular choice for weddings, with 27 already booked in for this year.
Keeping with the romantic theme, Highland Wildlife Park’s adult lynx pair Switch and Dimma received some Valentine’s Day enrichment from keepers. The pair have proven to be excellent mates and have successfully raised a litter each year since arriving at the Park in 2012. As their first litter was born only months after their arrival, the quick success is testament to how relaxed they are at the Park as well as the keepers’ animal husbandry experience.
Finally, Highland Wildlife Park is seeking 10 eager people for its new volunteer programme, the first of its kind in the Park’s 42 year history. The programme forms part of the Highland Wildlife Park Redevelopment Plan, which has received over £50,000 in funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund. They’re looking for people who have an interest in conservation and wildlife and who want to gain new experiences while assisting in a range of areas across the Park. This includes acting as guides, meeting and greeting visitors, helping with the horticultural upkeep of the Park’s public areas and assisting in our shop and café. People interested in applying for a volunteer position can do so by downloading our Volunteer Application Form from www.highlandwildlifepark.org.uk, or in writing to Visitor Services, Highland Wildlife Park, Kincraig, Kingussie PH21 1NL with applications closing 28th February.
The activist is not the man who says the river is dirty. The activist is the man who cleans up the river.
- Ross Perot
February 7, 2014 § Leave a comment
In an interesting update from RZSS’ veterinary department, Romain Pizzi spent part of last week with Professor Rowan Parks from Edinburgh University, one of the UK’s top pancreatic surgeons, observing human surgery. While pancreatic disease is unusual in many animal species, in giant pandas it appears to be of major importance, with 15% of wild panda deaths in China between 1938-1992 being diagnosed due to pancreatic disease (more than one in seven pandas). This is a great example of how our veterinary surgeons are collaborating with a wide range of experts in different disciplines as part of the long term aim of improving the care of giant pandas worldwide.
Continuing with vet news, while it is more common for veterinarians to apply experience and knowledge gained from their human medical colleagues to the unique and different situations across the breadth of animal patients, the reverse is also possible with veterinary perspective and experience sometimes helping with human medicine. Romain recently helped establish a trial cross-discipline surgical training course in London, where veterinary and medical trainees learn together in a complementary manner to enhance both groups learning. This means that what our vets learn can sometimes help human medicine advancement as well.
To hear more about the ground-breaking work of our vet team, I recommend coming along to the annual Vets Talk at Edinburgh Zoo’s Education Centre on Thursday 27th February. This talk is always very popular so I recommend booking your place soon! More information can be found on our events page.
I would also like to congratulate our Discovery & Learning team, who delivered 11 outreach sessions to over 300 people in January. Edinburgh Zoo’s educational outreach programme, Beyond the Panda, is aimed at students in primary levels 5-7 and raises awareness about giant pandas, the history of China and the importance of taking action to save the species from extinction. The programme is proving to be very popular and on Friday 14th February it will be Skyped live to a school in Turkey from Doon Academy, East Ayrshire, where it is being taught.
After the enormous success of Edinburgh Zoo Nights in 2013, I am very pleased to say that it is returning in 2014! This year there will be four adults only evenings at Edinburgh Zoo, with the first on Friday 23rd May, followed by Friday 6th June, Friday 20th June and Friday 27th June. Edinburgh Zoo Nights won Best-In House Event at the 2013 Scottish Event Awards – an enormous achievement for an event’s inaugural year – and with even more live entertainment and performers, this year is going to be even better. Tickets are on sale now and money raised from Edinburgh Zoo Nights will go towards the Society’s range of conservation projects.
February 5, 2014 § Leave a comment
By Douglas Richardson, Head of Living Collections, RZSS Highland Wildlife Park
Every 31st of December, a notoriously slow news day, there is usually a stream of stories about animal keepers in zoos taking the end of year animal census; a legal requirement under the Zoo License Act. The story usually comes with fairly hackneyed pictures of various individuals with clip-board and pen in hand and a suitably exotic creature looking on as it is counted. When looking at a range of these stories, it struck me that the general public may come away with the idea that the only time we know exactly how many animals we have is at the end of each year when we formally count them. This is of course not the case.
A zoo keeper’s job covers anything involved with caring for and meeting the needs of all the animals in their charge. Feeding them and clearing-up large amounts of waste material, of all sorts and consistencies, on a daily basis is obviously a large proportion of their daily workload. But the most important task that is done every single day, without fail and without exception, is to make sure that all their animals are accounted for, healthy, and ideally in the same enclosure they were in the day before. Any changes in the numerical, reproductive or health status of the animals is meticulously recorded at the end of each day in each section’s daily report books and diaries. The following day, all this information is entered into an international, online animal record keeping system called ZIMS, which stand for Zoological Information Management System.
All of the records that we at the Highland Wildlife Park and the other 800 plus member institutions contribute to ZIMS, gives us access to an enormous data base of over 2.6 million individual animals from over 10,000 species. So what use is all this data when it comes to the day to day care of our animals?
When our male Bactrian camel arrived at the Park in April 2009, he was a runt. The two adult females didn’t let him feed properly and so we had to separate him each day to make sure he got his food without being bullied by the girls. To make sure that he was putting on weight, using food as an incentive, the keepers trained him to walk onto a set of large, heavy-duty scales. As he became adult, we wanted to continue to monitor him and gauge his development. Because of our access to the ZIMS data base, we were able to compare his weight with all the recorded weights for male Bactrian camels of a similar age that had been recorded. Karnali, as he is called, is currently coming in at 614kg, down from a high of 730kg, but he is just coming out of the rut when paying attention to the female camels is a lot more important to him than eating, which is normal.
“First published in the Strathspey & Badenoch Herald”.
February 2, 2014 § Leave a comment
Arnaud Desbiez, Latin Coordinator for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland
This Sunday 2nd February 2014 is World Wetlands Day, so here at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland we would like to tell you more about one of the most amazing areas of wetland in the world, the Brazilian Pantanal, and about our international conservation work here.
The Pantanal is the world’s largest continuous freshwater wetland. It is located in the centre of the South American continent and covers approximately 160,000 km² spread across three countries: 140,000 km² in Brazil, 15,000 km² in Bolivia, and 5,000 km² in Paraguay. This areas is mosaic of seasonally inundated grasslands, river corridors, lakes, gallery forests, scrub and semi-deciduous forests that supports an abundance of wildlife. The Pantanal is subject to an annual flood pulse, as well as multiyear variation of flooding intensity, which determines ecological patterns and processes, and is the driving force in the landscape.
The region is distinguished for its extraordinary concentration and abundance of wildlife. The Pantanal harbours large populations of charismatic South American species that are threatened by extinction outside this biome, among which are some of the largest populations of Pampas deer (Ozotoceros bezoarticus), marsh deer (Blastocerus dichotomus), and jaguar (Panthera onca). In total, there are about 41 species of amphibians, 177 reptiles, more than 260 fish, roughly 124 species of mammals and approximately 463 species of birds, making it the richest single wetland site for birds in the world.
Approximately 95% of the Pantanal is privately owned. Extensive cattle ranching started in the mid-18th Century. Under traditional management practices, that consist of the seasonal movement of herds among patches of native savannas, cattle ranching is considered to have a low environmental impact and to have positively contributed to the conservation of biodiversity in the region.
The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland initiated its work in the Pantanal in 2005 with a research project evaluating the impact of feral pigs on native species in the wetland. This important project led to many recommendations and has become an important reference for the study and management of invasive pigs, both in the Pantanal and other biomes in Brazil. In 2007 RZSS, in partnership with Embrapa Pantanal, launched an ambitious project to help land owners make informed decisions to manage their ranch in a way that is beneficial to both domestic herbivores and wild herbivores. Next, a new lab was set up in Corumba (in the middle of the Pantanal) and a new tool that analyses the diet of herbivores was created and used. This tool was made available free of charge in 2011 for other researchers in the world working on sustainable land management issues. Finally in 2010 RZSS, in partnership with a Brazilian NGO and many other North American and European Zoos, initiated a long term study on one of South America’s least known and rarest large mammals: the giant armadillo. In addition to capacity building and exciting environmental education opportunities, the ground breaking work is providing insights on many other poorly known species as well.
For further information about our initiatives in the Pantanal, please visit: http://www.rzss.org.uk/conservation-programmes/projects/current-projects/pantanal-conservation-and-research-initiative