The wheels on the bus go round and round!

April 15, 2009 § 6 Comments


Throughout the last week, Edinburgh has been hosting the International Science and Technology Festival. A buzz of scientific activities, events and talks have been taking place all over the city, including, of course, Edinburgh Zoo. This Saturday, 18th April, as part of the festival events, Edinburgh Zoo will be unveiling its ‘Wild Bus’ at ‘Our Dynamic Earth’. Everyone is welcome to come along and find out more throughout the day. And, you may even get the chance to meet some of the smaller animals who will be travelling on the bus, before they start out on their travels throughout Scotland!


The RZSS ‘Wild Bus’ will make its debut this Saturday outside ‘Our Dynamic Earth’ 

The RZSS ‘Wild Bus’ will make its debut this Saturday outside ‘Our Dynamic Earth’


Back at the zoo, plenty is of course, going on here with our animals!

The Gentoo Penguins have now laid 78 eggs! This number continues to increase every day, and our penguin keepers even have their fingers crossed that the Gentoo Penguins may cross the 100-mark this year! It would certainly be an appropriate way to mark the Centenary celebrations of the RZSS.


The Rockhopper Penguins have stopped at the 10 eggs previously announced, but as it has been commented, they have done very well indeed! They did lay 10 eggs last year as well, with 1 chick hatching and surviving. We hope for the same if not better success this year. It would certainly be nice for our youngest Rockhopper Penguin, Tristan, to have some other youngsters to play with!


We have only 6 female Rockhopper Penguins and therefore we have six pairs of Rockhoppers currently occupying their small, secluded nest site. Five of these pairs have produced 2 eggs each as we would expect. One pair (they ones nesting nearest to the fence) have not laid so far and we don’t expect them to, as they didn’t lay last year. The male of this pair also has quite sore feet just now (a common problem among Rockhopper Penguins) and at the moment is wearing boots to help his feet heal!


We can also announce that of the 5 pairs laying eggs, only 2 pairs are producing fertile eggs. This does mean that the very most we can hope for this year is 4 chicks. However, this would certainly be a triumph for out Rockhopper Penguins, and certainly an improvement on recent years.


Spot the Rockhopper chick hiding in the background!

Spot the Rockhopper chick hiding in the background!

Since 2006, the Penguin keepers have been moving the Rockhopper group into the main enclosure at the end of the breeding season and bringing them back into the ‘creche’ enclosure for the start of the breeding season. They have reason to believe this may have improved breeding attempts among the Rockhopper Penguins as this movement imitates their behaviour in the wild. Typically in the wild the male penguins will return to their nesting area first, followed a week or so later by the females.

Keepers and zoo vets are also starting to look at the use of artificial insemination with our Rockhopper Penguins in order to improve egg fertility. They have begun by practicing some of the techniques involved in the procedure this year, in the hopes that they may begin to use them next year. So far they have managed to get fertile semen samples from two of the bachelor males! This is a promising start to what could be a long and challenging advance in Penguin breeding.


On the 7th April a female Asiatic Golden Cat arrived at Edinburgh Zoo, to be paired, in the future, with our resident male, Bruno. ‘Swa-Fai’ is a young female, yet to reach her first birthday! She has no doubt been named after the Thai name for this species ‘Seua fai’ meaning ‘Fire Tiger’. According to some Thai legends the burning of an Asiatic Golden Cat’s fur drives tigers away.Others believe that eating the meat, or simply carrying a hair from his beautiful cat will ward off tigers too. Such myths, certainly won’t have done the conservation of this species any favours.


Bruno, our male Asiatic Golden Cat

Bruno, our male Asiatic Golden Cat


Currently classified by the IUCN Red List as ‘Near Threatened’, it has been suggested that this cat is very close to being classified as a far more worrying ‘Vulnerable’. They are largely threatened by habitat loss, as Southeast Asian forests are undergoing the world’s fastest regional deforestation rates. However, Asiatic Golden Cats are also hunted for the illegal trade of their furs and bones (used in traditional medicines), have been persecuted for taking livestock, and are subject to indiscriminate snaring practices. The population is in decline in the wild, and that it why it is important for a captive population to be bred and maintained.


Once young ‘Swa-Fai’ has matured, keepers hope they may be able to breed her with our older male Bruno. Asiatic Golden Cats are notoriously difficult to breed in captivity. But with any luck, the two could one day contribute to the growing captive population, and to the conservation of their species.


You many remember that we recently announced that we have been expecting the arrival of a male Stanley’s Crane to join our resident female here at Edinburgh Zoo. On the 4th April a male arrived from Whipsnade Zoo to be paired with our female. Despite being just less than a year old the male has settled in well, and seems that the pair have taken to each other very well. They have been spotted performing courtship behaviours towards one another, and are never seen apart!


The new pair enjoy a paddle together

The new pair enjoy a paddle together

 On the 24th March, a male Short-Clawed Otter also arrived at Edinburgh Zoo to join a resident female. However, this male’s arrival did not go quite so smoothly! Unfortunately, our female reacted aggressively to the arrival of this new male in her territory, and as a result the male decided to escape from the enclosure! On Wednesday 1 April, during their routine morning inspections, our keepers discovered the otter was missing from its enclosure. Staff immediately began searching for the animal within the park and it was spotted on several occasions but attempts to catch the animal were unsuccessful! The otter eventually escaped the zoo and was spotted in the Blackhall area of Edinburgh, where it was eventually recaptured in somebody’s private garden! The escapee has now been returned to its original enclosure. Modifications have been made to the enclosure to prevent future great escapes! There have also been modifications to separate the male and female for the time being, whilst giving them visual access to one another so that they may gradually get used to each other, before they are introduced again.

Short-Clawed Otters are often seen ‘juggling’ stones, and have been known to swallow them (this aids in the digestion of whole animal carcasses)

Short-Clawed Otters are often seen ‘juggling’ stones, and have been known to swallow them (this aids in the digestion of whole animal carcasses)


Unfortunately, this week’s blog ends with some sad news. Over the Easter weekend one of the Bush Dog puppies died. The death of one or more young in a litter is common in both the wild and in captivity. And, although zoo keepers and vets will do everything in their power to ensure each individual survives, sometimes it is beyond their control. The individual that died, as you may expect, was the ‘runt’ of the litter. Zoo vets are currently carrying out tests to try to determine exactly what caused the death of this pup. It is however, likely linked to the fact that the adult Bush Dogs have recently had upset stomachs and diarrhoea. This in itself meant that the puppies’ mother was unable to feed her pups properly, and so keepers have been administering supplementary ‘tube-feeds’ to the pups themselves. Despite these measures, the weakest of the pups could not be saved. On a more positive note, we can report that the other pups are now looking much stronger. Keep an eye out for them next time you are in the zoo.




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§ 6 Responses to The wheels on the bus go round and round!

  • laura robinson says:

    hi im going to be visiting to zoo with my family in may and i wanted to know was it bigger than belfast zoo??

  • Barry says:

    The Rockhopper penguins still seem to pose more questions, like why are they more prone to disease such as foot problems and respiratory diseases such as aspergillosis than the Gentoos?
    Roslin Talbot and her team certainly got the right strategy with moving them through the winter as Rockhoppers are migratory and move away from their breeding grounds during the non-breeding season whereas Gentoos tend to stay in the the same area all year. There are, of course, some exceptions to this.
    As regards the foot problems I wonder, merely wonder, if the fact that the pools in Edinburgh are fresh water, not salt, might be a contributory factor. Would it be possible to provide them with foot baths of salt water to see if this helps – it might not. Are foot problems less in zoos that have salt water pools? I wouldn’t have thought that the substrate would have an effect as they usually occupy areas with hard ground.
    I though that diet may play a part in their breeding success as in some populations fish comprise only about 18% of their diet whilst euphausids (krill) up to 53%, however I note that in one particular population fish made up 83%(although this was only for one year and may have been an anomalous result). Gentoos in the wild apparently take roughly equal proportions of fish, squid and crustaceans. I gather that Gentoos have a stronger pair-bond year on year than most other penguins, so possibly the Rockhoppers would prefer to have a wider choice of partners – it’s not easy is it? Penguins always seem to breed better in large groups, same as flamingos and other colonial nesters, the mass stimulation seems to help.
    Away from penguins good news about the arrival of a potential mate for the Asiatic Golden Cat (which I am still old fashioned enough to call Temminck’s Cat) and also likewise for the Stanley’s Crane. What news of the White-naped Cranes?
    The blog is terrific – keep up the good work.

  • Barry says:

    Forgot to say thanks for the reponse on the Geladas.

  • zoo blogger says:

    I have never visited Belfast Zoo, but I have been informed that it is a similar size to Edinburgh Zoo! Hope this is helpful!

  • rzss says:

    We do not know for sure why the Rockhoppers seem to be more prone to ‘Bumblefoot’, but it is likely to be a combination of factors. It seems unlikely that the lack of saltwater would be a cause, because both the Gentoo and King penguins are subject to the freshwater, and do not suffer as a result. However, we could not rule it out and it would certianly be interesting to find out if collections that do have saltwater find their penguins suffer from bumblefoot in the same way. In general, the Rockhoppers are a much more sedentary group of animals and spend relatively little time in the pool compared to the Gentoo penguins. The King Penguins, who are also rather sedentary, do walk around more than the Rockhoppers. This could perhaps be a factor in it. The good news is that it is easier for the keepers to treat the Rockhoppers than either of the other two species, so they can recieve treatment when they need it. Some of our Rockhopper penguins that have suffered from feet problems have greatly improved after regular treatment.
    Our keepers disagree with the fact that the Rockhoppers are more prone to aspergillosis than the Gentoos as in their experience, far more Gentoos have suffered from this than Rockhoppers.
    Diet will play a part in breeding success as it contributes to overall health and animals that are over or underweight are not as likely to be fertile. When the gentoos were given a different diet (herring instead of whiting) it did seem to affect their breeding success in as much as chicks were hatched but the parents were not as attentive as usual. The keepers do feel that the rockhoppers current diet of spratts is not ideal for them nutritionally but the problem they have always had with them is that they are so much smaller than the other birds so cannot be fed whiting, and in addition they are very fussy feeders. They have tried to feed them krill as they feel it is much more suitable for them. However it is tiny and they don’t recognise it as food (either fed by hand or put into water for them). We are still working on other methods of getting them to eat this food but it it quite time consuming. The keepers have also tried them with sand eels which about 50% of them ate very well but there are several problems with both sand eels and krill:
    * One is their availability, the krill was very expensive and had to be imported from Canada and involved a lot of permits and paperwork. The sand eels are not plentiful as they used to be and it can be quite difficult to get them from suppliers (and at rising cost as well). An issue that is happening more and more is that most of the types of fish we use are becoming less plentiful and it can even become a moral issue for us as an organisation to further the demand in certain species of fish, which made lead to overfishing.
    * Another is the size of the food. The keepers need to be able to add supplements and sometimes medication to the fish, to be fed to the penguins. It is quite a skill to get 3 tablets into 1 spratt which is what we have to do during the breeding season. If any bird is on medication it also has to have medication in its fish. This would be impossible to do with sand eels and krill.
    We hope that we will be able to get the rockhoppers onto a mixed diet where they will accept all three types of food as this is probably the most natural for them in that they eat a mixture of fish and krill in the wild. Our gentoos already eat two types of fish and squid and it seems to be ideal for them.
    In their experience, the keepers also feel that the Rockhoppers have stronger pair bonds than the Gentoos. The Rockhopper pairs have barely changed in the last few years, despite new males being introduced to the group. The Gentoos on the other hand do sometimes change pairs, as well as occassionaly indulging in extra-pair matings. There is always the possibility that introducing new females to the Rockhopper group could have a positive effect, and as you say, increasing the numbers to make the group larger as a whole would also be likely to stimulate more successful breeding. However, there are limitations to the number of penguins we can keep, and the penguins that we can get from other zoos!
    The keepers work hard to provide the best possible care, and the most natural lifestyle for our penguins. However, as always, within captivity, there are limitations to what they can do! Your right, its not easy!

  • Barry says:

    How kind of you to give such a comprehensive reply to my questions and musings about the penguins.
    I was basing my comments re pair bonding upon what I have read about their behaviour in the wild and as is well known behaviour can be considerably different in captive populations. Plus some of the observations in the wild may not have been as accurate as they purport to be. This difference between wild and captive behaviour can also apply to their feeding habits as obviously they recognise krill as food in the wild.
    My comments on aspergillosis were obviously wrong and due to a misapprehension on my part. I would be interested to know what percentage of the wild populations suffer from the disease.
    It is fascinating to me to have the comments of the experts on these questions.
    The foot problems are interesting as I gather that flamingos are also prone to foot disease in captivity and the analogy I would draw is that several of the Phoenicopteridae inhabit mineral rich waters in their natural habitats.
    Let me say that I have the greatest respect for the knowledge and dedication of Roslin Talbot and her team, as indeed I have for all the keepers at Edinburgh.
    As an aside I have contacted EAZA re Rockhopper Penguins insofar that they still, according to their web site, have a studbook keeper for Eudyptes chrysocome (unchanged from a few years ago) but do not seem to have taken into account the effects of recent taxonomic changes. Apparently my question has been passed to the head of the Penguin TAG and I am awaiting a reply.

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