Chief Executive’s Blog

August 29, 2015 § Leave a comment


TianTian13_600x384As you are probably aware, we announced this week that we believe Tian Tian, our female giant panda, is no longer pregnant. Based upon our scientific data, the window has now passed during which Tian Tian would have given birth. Whilst this is sad news, we have been able to make a number of key discoveries relating to giant panda pregnancies which we hope will add to the global understanding of this endangered species. We have also achieved the world’s most comprehensive hormone analysis of an individual female panda. The Panda Team at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo have worked tirelessly the past few months and they have truly done everything to support Tian Tian during her breeding season. We will use what we have learnt this year and hope that next year will prove more successful.

Over the past weekend, across the Atlantic, the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington celebrated the birth of twin panda cubs, but unfortunately the smaller of the two cubs did not survive. I commiserate with the National Zoo and send my condolences on the loss of the cub. No giant panda zoo works in isolation; we celebrate each other’s gains and empathise with each other’s losses as we all work together as part of the giant panda project to save this magnificent species from extinction.

JR_Flamingos_11_JPI am also saddened to hear of the passing of John Ramsay this past weekend. John who was affectionately known as ‘JR’, was the RZSS sculptor and blacksmith, working with the Society for 30 years. JR’s intricate work can be found all across the Zoo, from the intricately decorated wrought iron gates, enclosure locking systems and metalwork on animal enclosures. His legacy certainly lives on at here at the Zoo and his one off sculptures of birds, animals and insects dotted distinctly around the site brings pleasure to visitors every day. The staff here were all fond of him and he will be missed. I send my sincere condolences to his wife and children.

And on a final note with some lighter news, I am writing my blog this week all the way from Sweden, where I am spending some time at a similar organisation to our own – Norden’s Ark – to take a look at some of their conservation programs. I am here to gain some valuable insights into their program but also to share my knowledge and expertise with them as part of a collaborative conservation effort. I have learnt a fair amount in my short time here and will look at how we can implement some of their ideas within RZSS so that we can grow even further as a conservation charity; saving species from extinction.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

Arnaud’s Blog – Expansion into the Cerrado

August 28, 2015 § Leave a comment

Many of my recent updates have focused solely on the work we are doing with the giant armadillos but there are several other aspects and updates from the project, which I thought I would take the opportunity to share, including our expansion into the Cerrado.

Arnaud and his team with one of the giant anteaters successfully collared

Arnaud and his team with one of the giant anteaters successfully collared

In addition to locating armadillos, one of the other objectives of the June expedition was to catch and collar three giant anteaters, which we successfully managed to do, as three adult females were caught in locations where our giant armadillos are found. In the July expedition we managed to catch a further three giant anteaters, two males and one female. We will not be catching more giant anteaters, as six is the maximum number we can safely monitor while running the rest of the project.

As part of our research we are running a comparative study between giant anteaters and giant armadillos and this data will be crucial to our understanding of how these giant Xenarthra divide their ecological niche. Furthermore we will be running a comparative study in the Cerrado on giant anteaters in the years to come.

Giant anteater released back into the Cerrado.

Giant anteater released back into the Cerrado.

A big piece news for the project was the purchase of the field truck, in time to take it to the field with us. The timing of its purchase couldn’t have been better as on the third day the old red truck became quiet and stopped working!…. I cannot thank enough all the zoos that have come together to help us purchase the truck.

As for the Cerrado, Gabriel is currently in the field with a biologist and they have detected giant armadillo presence in two new locations, more of which I hope to share in my next update. . I have also been working with a designer on materials to help others identify giant armadillo tracks, burrows and evidence.

Gabriel and Arnaud receiving their certificate recognizing the teams contribution to biodiversity conservation in the state.

Gabriel and Arnaud receiving their certificate recognizing the teams contribution to biodiversity conservation in the state.

Finally, we were delighted to receive, on behalf of the project, a certificate recognizing our contributions to biodiversity conservation in the state, from an elected member of the municipal council.. We were very pleased to receive this local recognition which will hopefully give the project conservation recommendations more consideration in the future.

Until next time.


Dr Arnaud Desbiez
RZSS Regional Coordinator (Latin America)

Chief Executive’s Blog

August 24, 2015 § Leave a comment


CAT Programme_15 - FLYER - ONLINE_page 2_Page_1In September RZSS will launch a brand new conservation programme, the Conservation Action Team (or CAT for short). The CAT programme is aimed at five to 15 years old who are passionate about wildlife and want to protect it. Running once a month on Saturdays for ten months, CAT will encourage children to have fun and work as part of a team to help wildlife. The programme also offers children the opportunity to achieve their John Muir Award and is recognised as an activity by the Children’s University. Please do check out our website for more details on this fantastic new initiative.

In news from our WildGenes laboratory, the team have been using genomic sequencing to determine the father of one of the forest reindeer calves which was born in June at RZSS Highland Wildlife Park. This is incredibly useful as we will be able to ensure greater genetic diversity within our herd. One of our research scientists, Gillian Murray-Dickson, is also busy evaluating high genetic data to see if it is possible to design tests which will distinguish wild fish from farmed escapees in the Mediterranean. These tests will then be passed to the Scottish Wildlife DNA Forensics Laboratory for validation as part of a larger EU-funded project. The tests will help to stop detrimental fishing practices and to distinguish wild fish from farmed fish. Many fish farms have escapees, so this project will potentially be able to determine where the fish come from and what genetic impact the farmed fish will have on wild populations.


The Zoo will be hosting a Bee Festival next weekend, from the 29 to 31 of August. The festival links to the Society’s Residencies Programme and will be led by our Beekeeper in Residence Brian Pool. The plight of our bees and pollinators is a serious one and the event aims to raise awareness of their decline, as well as demonstrating how much we rely on them and what we can do to protect our native species. The festival also aims to spark the imagination of young people on the subject of conservation and to show them that they too can make a difference, no matter how small.

15_8_15_Dinosaur_Rickshaw_3Elsewhere, we are also currently running a competition at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo which is linked to our Dinosaurs Return! exhibition and our recently launched “dino-shaws” in the city centre. If you haven’t spotted them yet, we have three dinosaur themed rickshaws travelling through the city. If you spot one, take a “selfie” of yourself with one of the rickshaws, or even just a quick snap of the rickshaw itself, to enter our competition. Selfies with the dinosaurs at the exhibition can also be entered into our weekly competition, with the winner taking home a Living Dinosaur Magic Moment experience at the Zoo. Send your photos to our Twitter and Facebook accounts to enter

“Every individual matters. Every individual has a role to play. Every individual makes a difference.”

Jane Goodall

Giant armadillo project update – June and July expeditions

August 20, 2015 § Leave a comment

As we head off to the field for the August expedition, I wanted to update you on the past two expeditions we ran in the Pantanal. Before I start I must say the team and I were overwhelmed by the kind response we received following our update on the fate of Alex. We are very grateful to all of you. We really appreciate seeing how involved in the work so many people are. Alex’s fate was even discussed in an article in the Guardian. He was also the subject of the 52 WEEKS – Nature Painting Challenge on Facebook and over 30 portraits of him were painted, all of them are very creative and some are really stunning.

'Jessica' - Giant armadillo caught on trail cam

‘Jessica’ – Giant armadillo caught on trail cam

Besides this tragic loss, a lot happened during the June expedition that I did not have a chance to tell you about. We managed to locate all four females and the male that the project is currently monitoring.  Each female was located several times, however none displayed nesting behaviour. For Roberta who is only a few months older than Alex that is to be expected. We continued working hard to try to find Roberta’s mother Dolores, but there was no sign of her. Having lost Alex, Roberta could help us understand more about giant armadillo dispersal.

The July expedition was very productive despite the crazy weather. We got a lot of rain which is rare in the dry season and temperatures fluctuated a lot. The highlight of the expedition was finding a new female giant armadillo, as well as fitting Mariana with a GPS tag.

The giant armadillo conservation project team

The giant armadillo conservation project team

It was such a wonderful surprise to find an occupied giant armadillo burrow on my birthday. It is only through sheer luck and a lot of hard work that we find an occupied burrow. The last new animal caught was Jessica in January.  It is such a magnificent feeling, such a rush of adrenaline… then of course our minds race with the possibility of whom this could be.

Bruna and Maria undergoing telemetry training

Bruna and Maria undergoing telemetry training

That evening it started raining, then it started pouring…  When the radio signal went off indicating the trap had closed we ran under a downpour of rain.  However due to the rain, it had not closed properly and the armadillo had escaped.  We watched under the freezing rain as the armadillo dug back into her burrow. Suddenly I could feel my 41 years become 91  in every bone of my body.  It was late, dark, pouring rain, feeling cold, tired and miserable I shoveled through the sand, digging the entrance to reset the trap. We all returned to the truck soaking wet and cold to wait many more hours. After the initial scare the animal did not come again that night, however we had more success the following evening. The sight, sounds and smell of a giant armadillo instantly brought me back to a childlike state of pure joy! Happy Birthday (one day late!). We called this beautiful young female Tracy, after one of the first researchers to study giant armadillos Tracy Carter. We look forward to unraveling whatever secrets she has to share.

During the expedition we also continued to monitor the other giant armadillos. As in June we concluded that none of our females were exhibiting nesting behavior. We retrieved the GPS tag that had fallen off of Wally our male giant armadillo. We also checked through our camera traps and we were delighted to see some pictures of Houdini. He was using a burrow that had been occupied the week before by Wally! We would love to find Houdini again. Maybe in August!  In the Northern area of our study area, an unknown female giant armadillo was also photographed. Who is she? After making sure she was not nesting, we caught Mariana and fit her with a GPS tag.  She continues to look beautiful and healthy.

Now we are back in the field, wish us luck for the few weeks!


Dr Arnaud Desbiez
RZSS Regional Coordinator (Latin America)

Pallas’s Cat Project – Update from Nepal

August 14, 2015 § Leave a comment

High up in the snow covered mountains of the Himalayas, in the Manang region of Nepal close to the Tibetan border, is the first of our four Pallas’s cat support projects.

The first images of Pallas’s cats from Nepal only emerged three years ago and due to this, and other reasons surrounding possible sub-speciation and distribution, Nepal  continues to be an area of particular interest.

Ganga and his team in Nepal

Ganga and his team in Nepal

I first made contact with Ganga Ram Regmi, our Nepalese Pallas’s cat field researcher (below in the glasses), two years ago through the Pallas’s cat working group. At the point of first contact Ganga was working with three trail cameras to carry out a baseline survey of the species in Northern Nepal. Although he had yet to photograph one, he was finding signs, and it was clear that he and Pallas’s cat research would benefit from support. The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) has since sent Ganga another five trail cameras, with more support follow later this year.

Ganga setting up a trail camera

Ganga setting up a trail camera

At the start of 2015, I was sent Ganga’s first field report since he had deployed and then later checked cameras he had out late 2014. After putting cameras out in the most challenging winter conditions of Nepal, Ganga and his team were delighted to not only capture one of the first images of Pallas’s cat in the region, but also to capture what is possibly the first video footage of a Pallas’s cat in Nepal. This video footage, captured by Ganga’s team member Tashi R Ghale was not only amazing in its own right, but was filmed at 4,825 metres and is possibly the highest ever record of Pallas’s cat in the world!

Pallas's cat caught on camera

Nepalese Pallas’s cat caught on camera

Imagery and footage captured during this study is not only improving our understanding of Pallas’s cats in Nepal, but showing how support from zoological collections like RZSS can boost the efforts and effectiveness of field researchers like Ganga. There is no doubt that we have a lot to learn about these amazing animals in Nepal and neighbouring countries, but this work is a major step in the right direction.

Some of the other species caught on camera: snow leopard and (below) Himalayan musk deer

Some of the other species caught on camera: snow leopard and (below) Himalayan musk deer


In a country where very little information on Pallas’s cat is known, Ganga is continuing to asses’ presence using trail cameras, interviews with local Yak herders, recording field signs, foster local people, school pupils and Yak herders in Pallas’s cat awareness and conservation. Ganga and his team’s enthusiasm and dedication to Pallas’s cat research is not only an asset to the long term conservation of the species in Nepal, but an attribute that makes RZSS proud to support his work alongside other European zoological institutions.

Stay tuned to hear about Ganga’s second field report and discover more amazing images and footage from the roof of the world. And join me next month where I will introduce you to Mohammad Farhadinia, our Iranian Pallas’s cat field researcher, to discover the world of Pallas’s cats in their western range.

Until next month!

David Barclay, RZSS Cat Conservation Project Officer

Going Wild about Scotland through July!

August 7, 2015 § Leave a comment

Wild about Scotland BusAs the school term has finished and the summer holiday has started, we took the Wild about Scotland bus to public attractions to spread the word about native species and the conservation work carried out by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland. We visited five National Trust sites as well as Glasgow Botanics, Scottish Deer Centre, Kelvingrove and Whitmuir Organic Farm.

Wild about Scotland National Trust for ScotlandThe National Trust for Scotland (NTS) was very kind to host us at five of their sites across central Scotland throughout July. Starting off at Falkland Palace, the home of modern tennis (the Palace has the oldest standing Royal tennis court in Britain) and one of Mary Queen of Scots favourite places to visit. We were treated to a tour of the grounds by Head Gardener Sonia Ferras-Mana who spoke passionately about planting for wildlife. She has planted wild flowers in the orchard to encourage pollinators into the area and she has also let the grass grow long in parts for larger animals. Yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor) is planted in areas as it feeds on the roots of the grass, restricting its growth, thereby allowing wild flowers to grow, and increasing plant diversity in the meadow. Something we have noticed at all of our visits to NTS properties this month are the incredible gardens that are so well maintained. Hill of Tarvit, David Livingstone Centre, Pollock House and Holmwood House were all teeming with wildlife.

Whilst visiting the properties in Fife we took the opportunity to visit our friends at the Scottish Deer Centre in Cupar. As members of British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA) we have worked closely with Yvonne and Alastair from the Education department at the Scottish Deer Centre in the past, so we were delighted to be invited along to talk about the conservation work at RZSS with their visitors as part of their ‘Native Days’ along with other conservation organisations such as Scottish Natural Heritage, Scottish Wildlife Trust, RSPB, and Fife Coast & Countryside Trust, to name but a few. Native days was a great place to discuss the importance of our native species and highlighting the problems they face today. We were able to debate the pros and cons of reintroducing animals, such as beavers, as well as the challenges facing the Scottish wildcat.

Was_blog_4We had our busiest week whilst stationed at the Glasgow Botanic Gardens. This was an opportunity to represent RZSS in the busiest part of Scotland in the beautiful setting of the gardens in Glasgow’s West End. Unfortunately, the unpredictable weather meant we weren’t able to explore the gardens as much as we would have liked but we did have over 1000 people on board the bus and we managed to provide some respite for tiring parents of excitable children in full summer holiday mode. One of the best things about our bus is that we can entertain a whole range of ages with activities such as colouring in and looking through the microscope to mini-beast hunts and identification. We also managed to squeeze in a Bioblitz with RSPB at Kelvingrove as part of the Glasgow Wildlife Garden Festival. This is where a selection of conservation organisations come together and survey an area with help from the public. This UK wide project allows scientists to collect a lot of data in a short period and gives us an important insight into the health of certain ecosystems.

Finally, strengthening our link with Whitmuir the Organic Place, we provided mini-beast expertise for a day of family activities on the farm. With the help of Brian Poole, RZSS Edinburgh Zoo’s resident beekeeper, we discussed the role of invertebrates in food production and surveyed surrounding fields to see what was living on site. Whitmuir is a working organic farm in West Linton, 16 miles south of Edinburgh. It is a great learning space and produces some of the best sustainable organic produce in the country. We found lots of interesting animals including a bright green pollinating sawfly Tenthredo mesomela and lots of ringlet butterflies.

We are now preparing for the year ahead, developing lesson materials and planning our journeys but don’t worry there is still plenty of time to register your interest in having our bus coming to your school at

Wild about Scotland - Brodie# Brodie knows best

Wild about Scotland - EarthwormBrodie’s mini-beast of the month

Brodie’s mini-beast of the month for July is the humble earthworm. Described by Darwin as “nature’s ploughs” they play a vital role in mixing nutrients and organic matter in the soil. Their burrows help to aerate the soil and let water through.  As they move through the soil they consume dead plant material, breaking it down into smaller pieces. This speeds up decomposition and allows nutrients to be recycled by bacteria and fungi. There are 27 species of earthworm native to Britain. Get digging and discover more about the worms in your garden or school grounds by taking part in OPAL’s national earthworm survey at

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Chief Executive’s Blog

August 7, 2015 § Leave a comment

I am delighted to announce, that this week, we reached the highest number of members that we have ever had in our more than 100 year history as the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland. We now have more than 25,000 members, which is a 10% rise in membership numbers since the beginning of the year. As a conservation charity, we rely greatly on members and visitors to help support the vital conservation work we do, both at home and abroad. So I would like to thank every one of our members for your support; without you we wouldn’t be able to achieve our goal of safeguarding species from extinction. We aspire to continue to grow our membership base so that our conservation efforts can reach further.

Jane Hosegood, PHD Student at Bangor University at RZSS WildGenes Labratory - photo by Katie Paton

Jane Hosegood, PHD Student at Bangor University at RZSS WildGenes Labratory – photo by Katie Paton

In our WildGenes Lab at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo, we currently have a PhD student from Bangor University, Jane Hosegood, working with our Senior Technician Jenny Kaden to learn about genomic techniques which she will be applying to her project on manta rays. Jane is working in association with the Manta Trust, Save Our Seas Foundation, TRACE Wildlife Forensics Network and the Natural Environment Research Council. Her project aims to develop tools for the conservation and management of manta and mobula (devil) rays worldwide, which are under threat from target fishing for the illegal trade of their gill plates.

In other news at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo, this week we celebrated the 10th Anniversary reunion of our Science Summer School. To commemorate this occasion we held a reunion for all former summer school pupils on Thursday night, 6 August at the Zoo. Past pupils as well as pupils from this year’s course attended the event, which involved a special tour around the Zoo, keynote speakers and a chance to network with the other students. The Science Summer School has been running for 10 years now and is aimed at young people aged 16-18 years old. The free course runs for one week every year and is designed to give students real world experience in the fields of research and conservation within the setting of our Zoo.

71 Engineer Regiment and the South Dakota National Guard at RZSS Highland Wildlife Park

71 Engineer Regiment and the South Dakota National Guard at RZSS Highland Wildlife Park – photos by Alex Riddell

And in news from RZSS Highland Wildlife Park, the military spent some time at the Park recently, helping with a number of hefty tasks. The 71 Engineer Regiment and the South Dakota National Guard spent the last 10 days at the Park helping to build the foundations for an off-show Amur leopard breeding facility (which I will tell you more about in a future blog post) as well as a management area for our European bison. The military completed their work at the Park on Wednesday and to mark this we held a handover ceremony on Thursday where we presented the commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Foulkes from the 71 Engineer Regiment with three specially commissioned commemorative Amur leopard prints as a thank you for the regiment’s work at the Park.


“The Study of nature is a limitless field, the most fascinating adventure in the world.”

Margaret Morse Nice

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