Chief Executive’s Blog

April 14, 2015 § Leave a comment

We have had a really busy Easter period at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo and RZSS Highland Wildlife Park and the weather, which has mainly been pleasant, has certainly helped.

I am very pleased to announce that our Latin American co-ordinator, Arnaud Desbiez, has been nominated for a Whitley Award (also known as the ‘Green Oscars’) for his work on the Giant Armadillo Project in the Pantanal, Brazil. This international prize honours exceptional individuals who, through their outstanding conservation work in developing countries, are redefining the way people engage with the natural world in the 21st century.

Arnaud_CameraTrapArnaud is one of seven wildlife conservationists to have been nominated for the prestigious award and was shortlisted from a group of 174 applicants. The winner will be announced at an event in London at the end of April. We are very proud of Arnaud’s achievements and are looking forward to the announcement of the winner of the Whitley Award in the near future.

We have also had further good news from our RZSS conservation team out in Brazil. After searching for Alex, the baby giant armadillo that they have been tracking for some time, the team have found him in his mother’s territory. Alex – perhaps the world’s most famous giant armadillo – has been monitored by the team since his birth on 2nd July 2013. The team are happy to report that Alex is doing well and is now fully independent, foraging alone and digging his own burrows.

The Giant Armadillo Project team are also busy organising the first Giant Armadillo Epidemiology Symposium, which will be held at Sao Paulo Zoo. The two-day event will be attended by the 13 different institutions that use samples collected by the Project to present their results, exchange ideas and make suggestions of new lines of research, as well as data collection. It is hoped that the Symposium will further advance the field of epidemiology in armadillos and conservation medicine in general.

First gentoo egg of 2015

First gentoo egg of 2015

The penguins at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo are well into their annual breeding season and the first eggs are starting to appear. The gentoos have already laid 22 eggs and our rockhoppers eight. We are particularly hopeful that we may have our first rockhopper chick(s) in six years this year, as this is the first year our younger rockhopper birds have reached maturity and have laid eggs. We look forward to seeing any chicks emerge from late May onwards.

Finally, the Wild about Scotland bus, our educational outreach programme in association with Clydesdale Bank, was at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo this week. Many children took the opportunity to hop onto the bus and learn about Scotland’s native species, such as the wildcat and beaver. The children had a great time learning and taking part in fun activities. The Wild about Scotland bus then drove over to the City Arts Centre and Summerhall in Edinburgh as part of the annual Edinburgh International Science Festival.

“Destroying rainforest for economic gain is like burning a Renaissance painting to cook a meal.”
― Edward O. Wilson

Chief Executive’s Blog

April 6, 2015 § Leave a comment

Dinosaurs Return exhibition opens at Edinburgh Zoo.

The Dinosaurs Return exhibition opens at Edinburgh Zoo.

This week has been very exciting as today (Friday 3 April) we launched the Dinosaurs Return! exhibition at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo.

A lot of work has been put into the exhibition and we are extremely proud of it. Visitors have been streaming in today from the moment it opened, so it looks like being a very popular attraction over the coming months. This is set to be a fantastic opportunity for people of all ages to really connect with conservation and the wider story of the fight against species extinction. The exhibition will run from 3 April until 1 November. For further information, please visit

Our conservation team were in Knapdale, Argyll, last week, monitoring the site of the Scottish Beaver Trial as part of the Scottish National Heritage licensing conditions. We were please to discover two new beaver lodges recently and beavers have been seen on four different lochs. I was lucky enough to spend a couple of days up there with our team in the beautiful surroundings last week seeing the work of the Trial.

The RZSS team also attended the Response for Nature Prioritisation Workshop last week. These workshops hope to build on the work carried out by the State of Nature Partnership, which produced a report to highlight nature under threat in the UK and its overseas territories. It studies both plant and animal species to better understand the impact of modern day life on the rare and threatened habitats which help to support species found nowhere else on earth.

Our RZSS WildGenes work also continues, with a new team member arriving from Gabon to carry out further work on the forensic traceability of elephant ivory over the next five months. This is another step towards utilising forensic DNA to ensure more criminals taking part in the illegal wildlife trade are caught, but we hope that this will also act as an increasing deterrent to future poaching activities.

Arnaud Desbiez researching Giant Armadillos in the Brazilian Pantanal

RZSS Regional Coordinator for South America, Arnaud Desbiez researching Giant Armadillos in the Brazilian Pantanal

Finally, the Giant Armadillo Project team in Brazil has been out in the field in the Pantanal for the past week. Despite heavy floods, they needed to head out to retrieve a GPS tag before its battery runs out. The team will also search for Alex, the baby giant armadillo the project has been following for the last 18 months.

All is connected… no one thing can change by itself.

Paul Hawken

Going Wild about Scotland through February

March 23, 2015 § Leave a comment

We’ve had a fantastic February travelling the country aboard our Wild about Scotland bus and spreading the word about Scotland’s amazing wildlife. We visited schools in Edinburgh, Dundee, Angus, Perth and Kinross, Glasgow and South Lanarkshire.


Pupils at Errol Primary School, Perthshire pose for the local paper and the bus under the Forth Rail Bridge at Deep Sea World

We’ve also visited some iconic landmarks- from Captain Scott’s Antarctic ship RRS Discovery to the Forth Rail Bridge and even a day at Scottish Parliament at Holyrood.

At the beginning of the month we opened up the bus for a day at our local aquarium Deep Sea World in North Queensferry. It was a great opportunity to share ideas and resources with their education team and to welcome on board tourists from around the world.


Top left: Bill Kidd MSP and Chief Whip for the SNP posting
his hope for Scottish Biodiversity;
Bottom left : The NI Assembly Environment Committee;
Right: Pupils from Inverkeithing science club get stuck in!

As part of Scottish Environment Week we were invited to spend a day at Holyrood. We had a prime spot on the pavement metres away from the front door of Scottish Parliament. As well as being open to members of the public we were visited by 12 MSPs, many of whom were ‘Species Champions’ for various Scottish plants and animals. It was great to see their interest in the project and discuss their hopes for Scottish Biodiversity. Another highlight was meeting the Northern Ireland Assembly Environment Committee who were over to get inspiration for their own environment week. Thanks to Scot Link for setting this up and to everyone who we saw this month!

From the driver’s seat

Bus driver DaveEach 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.

February was a good month to try out my newly learned photography skills as we visited some of Scotland’s finest attractions: Deep Sea World beneath the Forth Rail Bridge, RRS Discovery in Dundee and the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood. To get a good angle of our bus with some of these landmarks I had to drive the bus up onto the pavement (with permission of course!). With rain and dirty roads it has been a challenge keeping the bus looking spic and span- I like to have it freshly washed before our high-profile events and we often have photographers from the local press. Many thanks to the lads at Lothian Bus depot in Longstone who did a cracking job washing the bus before our day at Parliament.

#Brodie knows best

BrodieKnowsBestEach month Brodie the bus mascot answers your questions about science and nature.

Q. What is the difference between a Scottish wildcat and a domestic cat?

A. Wildcats are a generally bigger cat, usually having longer legs and larger heads. The classic way to tell the two apart is by their tails. Although domestic cats and wild cats may sometimes share colours and patterns, the wildcat tail is much bushier with a black, rounded tip. There are thought to be only 400 wildcats left in Scotland and most of these are likely to be a hybrid (mixture) between domestic cats and wildcats. The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland is carrying out genetic testing of the current populations as well as breeding a captive population in Highland Wildlife Park, near Aviemore.

Submit your questions for next month on Twitter @WildaboutScot using #Brodieknowsbest

Top teacher comments and tweets

“Thank you so much for a fantastic session on the bus. Very informative and the children loved it! The class were completely captivated and engaged” Dens Road Primary School

“Very interesting and engaging session for children of all abilities” Paradykes Primary School

“This was a really enjoyable activity for our children- I’m amazed at how much they’ve remembered!” Errol Primary School

“The Education Officers were very informative, engaged the pupils and kept them interested” Mossneuk Primary School

Next month – March

Next month we continue our tour visiting schools in Perth and Kinross, Renfrewshire, N. Ayrshire, N. Lanarkshire, Falkirk and the Borders. We’re also stopping in at the Scottish Wildlife Trust reserve Loch of the Lowes on the 5th March.

For more information about the Wild about Scotland project and to see when the bus is next in your area, visit our website at, follow us on twitter @WildaboutScot, or like our Facebook page.

Chief Executive’s Blog

March 6, 2015 § Leave a comment


We are just into the first week of March, but spring doesn’t look like it’s due to arrive quite yet as we’ve had a bit of snow and some cold weather this week. The Highland Wildlife Park was closed on Monday for this very reason, but the polar bears had a lovely time frolicking and playing in the snow. One of the visitors to the park managed to get some wonderful footage of Walker and Arktos which can be viewed here

We are pleased to hear that China’s fourth National Giant Panda Survey, which was funded in part by RZSS’ annual panda payments, is showing positive results that indicate panda populations in the wild have increased by 16.8% over the past decade. The total area surveyed and methodology is different to previous times, however there is now an estimated minimum number of 1,864 wild pandas, which is an increase from the estimated 1,596 animals surveyed previously, and there has been an overall 11.8% increase in their geographic range since 2003. However, there is still much work which needs to be done and pandas are far from being safe from the threat of extinction. Economic development is considered to be the biggest threat to pandas and their habitat, as a result the Chinese President, Xi Jinping, has emphasised the importance of natural habitat restoration, not only for the pandas, but for a whole range of other species as well.

15_03_02_GentooPenguin_KeepersPlacingNestRings_kp_2_fbMeanwhile, the gentoo penguin breeding season has commenced at Edinburgh Zoo with the annual placement of the nesting rings and pebbles in Penguin Rock. The male penguins will choose the best looking pebbles to attract the attentions of their potential mates. The penguins often choose the same partners every year, but some do choose to go their separate ways. The penguin cam will be switching over to the nest site this week to allow people to keep an eye on the nesting. We are all hoping for a successful breeding season and are looking forward to welcoming the new chicks in early summer – around May time.

Beyond-the-panda-36This week saw the launch of RZSS’s new innovative teaching and learning programme ‘Beyond the Panda.’ The programme has been developed over the past 18 months in conjunction with the Confucius Institute for Scotland’s Schools and has been supported by the Scotland China Education network (SCEN). The programme which has been generously funded by Jaguar Land Rover (China) includes outreach workshops, an online learning resource and a free education pack which was sent out to all primary and secondary schools in Scotland this week. The launch of the education programme involved a conference which was attended by Consul General Pan Xinchun and Dr Alasdair Allan MSP, Minister for Learning, Science and Scotland’s languages as well as key figures from the Confucius Institute for Scotland’s Schools, the Scottish Educational Leadership Management and Administration Society and the Languages Team Curriculum Unit for Learning Directorate and Natasha Black, Curriculum Unit Administrator.

Beyond-the-panda-46Eight schools from across Scotland spent the day at the Zoo to mark the occasion and had a fantastic time giving talks, taking part in fun, educational workshops and visiting the pandas. The Beyond the Panda education packs are an introduction to RZSS’ brand new, curriculum linked on-line learning resource that is designed to help schools and their pupils investigate, study and explore global citizenship, sustainability, biodiversity and conservation within the overall context of giant pandas and China.

In the Highlands, it looks as if the oystercatchers who visit us every year are beginning to make their annual return the Highland Wildlife Park as the first two oystercatchers have been spotted out in the arable.

Our head of conservation, Rob Ogden has been in Rome this week attending an annual meeting of AQUATACE, a European fisheries project that is looking to develop methods for tracking fish farms escapees and reducing their impact on natural fish populations in the wild. Our conservation projects manager Roisin Campbell-Palmer and our veterinary surgeons Simon Girling and Romain Pizzi , are undertaking a health screening of beavers in the River Otters, Devon, on behalf of DEFRA, to determine the suitability for re-release as part of a scientific trial reintroduction in England. This trio have also recently had study on, ‘Echinococcus multilocularis detection in live Eurasian beavers (Castor fiber) using a combination of laparoscopy and abdominal ultrasound under field conditions’ accepted for publication in PLOS ONE.

And finally, preparations for our famous Edinburgh Zoo Nights are well underway and we have already sold a large number of tickets for the events. Following the enormous success of last year, I am looking forward to what this year’s event will bring.

Chief Executive’s Blog

February 20, 2015 § Leave a comment

Well Happy Chinese New Year. The year of the goat has begun and, as we enter spring, the days are getting gradually warmer and longer. Spring and summer always prove to be eventful seasons for everybody at RZSS, with the main breeding season for many animals in full swing and a jam-packed set of summer school classes just around the corner.

Velma the velociraptor

Velma the velociraptor

Velma the Velociraptor has been out and about this week ahead of Dinosaurs Return! which will start in April. She has been meeting the public and has proved to be a big hit so far at Edinburgh Zoo and Dynamic Earth. She will continue to meet and greet visitors at various venues across Edinburgh and Glasgow until the launch.

On Monday we receive our actual animatronic dinosaurs, all the way from America. Shipped across the North Atlantic Ocean, they are as realistic as possible and are based on actual DNA research of fossilised dinosaur skin and bones. It will be all hands to the top of the hill as these giants are unloaded and assembled on site. We are inviting press along, so there should be some really memorable photographs taken recording the occasion.

Wild about Scotland bus outside Scottish Parliament

Wild about Scotland bus outside Scottish Parliament

The Wild about Scotland bus, our educational outreach programme in association with Clydesdale Bank, visited Edinburgh Zoo this week, with lots of children taking the opportunity to hop on board and learn about Scotland’s native species. Then yesterday (Thursday 19 February) the mobile classroom pulled up at the Scottish Parliament to engage with MSPs as part of the 10th anniversary of Scottish Environment Week. MSPs including Mike MacKenzie, Bill Kidd, Christine Grahame and Liam McArthur – to name just some – ‘got on board’ the interactive classroom. During the visit to Parliament, MSPs were asked to vote and tweet their hopes for the future of Scottish biodiversity.

If you are interested in the bus coming to your school, please go to our website to request a visit . You can also follow all the action from the bus, including the activity at Scottish Parliament yesterday, via our dedicated Twitter feed

14_12_04_ScottishWildcat_1_kp_fbMeanwhile, our Scottish wildcat conservation work is ongoing. This week our team meet with the Scottish Gamekeepers Association and estate managers in Ardnamurchan, to discuss of the plight of the Scottish wildcat. We are working with land managers to allow us to better monitor the wildcat population and ensure that any predator control being used is wildcat friendly. This crucial work will help to provide the Scottish wildcat with safer areas to roam and contribute to the future survival of this species.

All of the above is sadly very relevant in a week when the world’s largest earwig has been declared extinct. The St Helena Giant Earwig (Labidura herculeana) grew up to a maximum of eight centimetres long, with the last confirmed adult being spotted as far back as 1967. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has now declared the species extinct, changing its status from Critically Endangered. Since the early 1960s its habitat has been degraded, with the stones that it lived under being removed from the island by the construction industry. Through education, research and conservation, we must all work hard together to make sure examples like this do not continue to happen.

“The most important environmental issue is one that is rarely mentioned, and that is the lack of a conservation ethic in our culture.”

– Gaylord Nelson

Going Wild about Scotland through January!

February 18, 2015 § Leave a comment

At the SSE Hydro, also sponsored by Clydesdale Bank.

At the SSE Hydro, also sponsored by Clydesdale Bank.

In the first month of 2015, we’ve stayed close to home. Despite freezing temperatures and snowy conditions, we visited a total of 13 schools across Edinburgh, Glasgow, North and South Lanarkshire, the Renfrewshires and Fife.

Our bus got its first real taste of snow during our Fife week at the beginning of the month when we visited Glenrothes and again in Glasgow in our last week. The snow got so bad at one point that a school had to reschedule their visit so the children didn’t miss out- see you in April Crawforddyke Primary! (Hopefully the snow will hold this time although in Scotland you never know!) While at Sunnyside Primary School in Glasgow, we took the opportunity to stop off at The SSE Hydro. This is another one of Clydesdale Bank’s sponsorship properties so it was only appropriate we took a photograph of the two projects side by side.

Our mascots Brodie and Gillespie playing in the snow at Our Lady and St Francis Primary School.

Our mascots Brodie and Gillespie playing in the snow at Our Lady and St Francis Primary School.

A special ‘Thank you’ to Lochrutton and Boghall Primary Schools who sent us some lovely letters showing the excellent work pupils have done following on from their session on the bus. See example work below in our ‘Top Tweets’. We’ve also started a new Twitter quiz on Fridays, where we ask you to identify a close-up of a native species. Keep an eye out for #fridayfocus @WildaboutScot.

Bus driver DaveFrom 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.

Hail, rain, wind and snow have made January an interesting month of driving. Twice during our Fife week the Forth Road Bridge was closed to high-sided vehicles, meaning a 30 mile detour via Kincardine Bridge. On a number of occasions, snow has started halfway through the morning lessons, so when it came time to leave the playgrounds were whiteouts. But after some careful driving in snowy conditions, the school gates were successfully negotiated.

Whether due to visibility, rain-soaked spectacles or maybe the hope of the Wild about Scotland bus being their ticket home, I am increasingly being flagged down by prospective bus passengers! The large pictures of animals, lack of seats and a service number not being a clue, they are disappointed when I stop to inform them of their mistake.

As well as driving the bus, I have become responsible for taking many of the photos you see on Twitter and in local papers. So one big plus in January was an afternoon training from the Big Partnership on how to take a professional photograph suitable for use by the press. A very informative and interesting session. Thank you Laura and Neil.

BrodieKnowsBest#Brodie knows best

Each month Brodie the bus mascot answers your questions about science and nature.

Q. Why are beavers’ teeth orange?

A. The hard orange enamel on the outside of beavers’ incisors is in contrast to the soft dentin on the inside of the teeth. Like all rodents, the incisors continue to grow throughout their lifetime. So when a beaver gnaws on wood or bark this softer inner layer wears away faster than the harder outer layer. This creates a chiselled finish, keeping our teeth nice and sharp!

Submit your questions for next month on Twitter @WildaboutScot using #Brodieknowsbest

Top teacher comments and tweets

“Great interactive activities that had the children engaged from beginning to end”, Kelty Primary School

“Really enjoyable and definitely worth a visit. Very informative and great staff. Will recommend”, Strathallan Primary School

“All the hands on activities, especially the dam building, really captured the imagination and attention of the children”, Crookfur Primary School

“Come more often!” Sunnyside Primary School

Next month- February

Next month, as well as visiting schools across Edinburgh, Dundee, Perth and Kinross, Angus, Glasgow and South Lanarkshire, we have some special events planned! On Wednesday 4th February, we will be open to the public at our local aquarium Deep Sea World in North Queensferry. Also, as part of Scottish Environment Week we will be welcoming MSPs on board at Holyrood on Thursday 19th February.

For more information about the Wild about Scotland project and to see when the bus is next in your area, visit our website at, follow us on Twitter @WildaboutScot, or like our Facebook page.

Chief Executive’s Blog

February 6, 2015 § Leave a comment


GentooPenguinChick_12Well February is here and with it lots of cold bright sunshine. Each year in February our colony of gentoo penguins at Edinburgh Zoo begin their breeding season. Funnily enough, and an amusing coincidence of nature, it is round about February 14th that nest rings and pebbles go into Penguins Rock. The birds will increasingly start to show behaviours associated with breeding – calling, sitting in the nests, selecting a mate, pebble giving (and some stealing!). It is also entertaining to watch and, as we often say, there is never a dull moment in Penguins Rock at this time of year.

Still on the subject of birds, Edinburgh Zoo recently added a very threatened species to our bird collection. The Baer’s pochard is a diving duck which is classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List. These birds can remain submerged for up to 40 seconds and dive a distance of two metres deep looking for food. They are a new species for Edinburgh Zoo and our bird keepers are pleased to have them in our collection. The birds are currently on display in our flamingo enclosure which is near to the entrance of the Zoo. Other feathered editions include three rainbow lorikeets that are currently off show.

At Highland Wildlife Park, we have just received approval from the Indian Central Zoo Authority to send them another two female satyr tragopans for their conservation programme in Darjeeling. One bird hatched in the Highlands in 2014 and another is from a World Pheasant Association member. A rare and endangered bird species, the programme is an attempt to kick-start a recovery plan for the species.

Satyr_Tragopan_1_JPIn 2013 nine tragopans, bred in captivity in the UK and donated by the World Pheasant Association’s conservation project, were sent to the foothills of the Himalayas. It was these birds that were provided special quarantine facilities at Highland Wildlife Park prior to their departure because very specialist skills and resources were required.

RZSS is also very proud to be arranging the reintroduction of European Bison again this year in two possible locations (Vanatori Neamt in Romania again and a new site in northern Spain which is at the south-western edge of the species’ historical range). This will be another great step taken to help re-establish these majestic animals after they became extinct in the wild in 1927. Last year we reintroduced a female European bison from Highland Wildlife Park to an established herd in Romania.

This week takes our WildGenes team to Thailand where swabs are being collected from elephants in the Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp and Resort as part of a pilot project DNA registration system for Thailand’s captive elephants. While there our team will also provide training in the use of 40 new camera traps that are being funded by WWF USA, as well as DNA sample collection to help aid our project to survey and protect biodiversity in Burma.

Finally, RZSS’ veterinary team is hosting the natterjack sub-group this week to contribute to disease screening.

“For most of history, man has had to fight nature to survive; in this century he is beginning to realise that, in order to survive, he must protect it.” — Jacques-Yves Cousteau


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