The Beavers are Back!

June 3, 2009 § 1 Comment


This week RZSS has been involved in something very exciting; the first ever reintroduction of a native mammal species to Britain! Beavers went extinct 400 years ago in Scotland due to over hunting for their fur, meat and a secretion they use to mark their territory, castoreum. The reintroduction of beavers marks an important step forward for the conservation of Scottish native species and RZSS is proud to be involved with this. Many of you may have heard about the Scottish Beaver Trial through the news over the last week, but here on the Edinburgh Zoo blog, we hope to keep you updated with how the beavers are doing in their new home, as they settle in over the next few weeks.

 An eager beaver!

An eager beaver

On Friday 29th May, 3 families (11 individuals) of European Beaver were released at a site in the Knapdale forest, Argyle. All of the beavers were captured in Norway, and are considered to be the closest to the type of beaver once found in the UK. Since their capture, the beavers have undergone a 6 month quarantine period. One family stayed at Edinburgh Zoo for their quarantine period, and another stayed at the Highland Wildlife Park for theirs. If you have visited the zoo over the last few months, you may have spotted the beaver enclosure in the old ‘duck ponds’ at the bottom of the zoo. The beavers certainly made themselves at home during their short stay, constructing an impressive lodge on the edge of the duck pond. However, they were rarely seen, as they are nocturnal animals.

The released beavers will now be monitored and tracked as part of the 5 year trial. All of the beavers have been fitted with radio tags to enable us to find out their whereabouts at any given time. And as well as monitoring the beavers in this way, we will also be observing their habitat for signs of their behaviours (E.g. feeding, movement, felling trees to build lodges and dams, burrowing into water banks, dispersal into other areas, etc.). This will enable us to determine the impact the beavers are having on their environment.

 One beaver gets accustomed to its new environment, with its radio tag clearly visible

One beaver gets accustomed to its new environment, with its radio tag clearly visible

Over the weekend, the beavers stayed within their ‘release lochs’ (each family has their own loch), but have been exploring the area, to find the perfect location for their new ‘home’. Some of the beavers have already begun felling trees and building a lodge, despite being released into man-made lodges. These obviously were not quite good enough for the beavers! Several individuals have also been spotted swimming (at impressive speeds!) by the monitoring team, and all seem to be healthy and comfortable in their new surroundings. Apparently members of the public have already spotted one family of beavers (and had great views!) and the local fishermen have seen another family. The beavers don’t seem to be easily spooked, which is excellent news, as it is likely that their release will attract more people to the area. We will keep you up-to-date with the beavers and their actions right here!

 One beaver leaves its man-made lodge

One beaver leaves its man-made lodge

If in the meantime, you can’t make it to Argyle to see the ‘wild’ beavers, you can always come to Edinburgh Zoo to spot one. Following the departure of the Edinburgh Zoo family to Argyle, another family has quickly arrived to fill their shoes! Only yesterday (2nd June) 4 more beavers arrived at Edinburgh Zoo and are resident in the ‘duck ponds cum beaver enclosure’ at the bottom of the zoo. We also currently have a single beaver living in at separate enclosure, next to the Pallas Cats. This male was an escapee from another collection in Scotland. He managed to elude captors for several months, before he was caught up and brought to Edinburgh Zoo. Unfortunately, until winter, it is unlikely that you will spot any of these individuals as they tend to stay hidden away as long as the sun is up!

We now have 43 gentoo penguin chicks. Unfortunately this week has a small number of chick deaths and disappearances. As ever, infant mortality is common and despite the care chicks receive from both their parents, and the keepers, some will not always make it. The disappearance of chicks is likely the result of other bird species predating on the penguin youngsters. This is a natural and unavoidable cause of death (unfortunately keepers cannot guard the penguins 24/7), which would happen in the wild, the same as it occasionally does in the zoo.

Home alone for the first time! 

Home alone for the first time!

We are however pleased to announce that 2 rockhopper penguin chicks have hatched from the 10 eggs that this species laid. Both youngsters hatched over 4 weeks ago now and are doing very well indeed. They hatched two days apart, and one has already reached a weight of 1.5kg, while the other is a healthy 1kg. Both chicks are already quite large and can be easily spotted on the rockhopper nest site, behind some rocks, next to the fence, in the enclosure opposite the penguin shop!

The care procedure is a little different for the rockhopper chicks. They tend to get a little extra attention and special care! The keepers weigh them every single day as well as weighing them for a longer length of time. This is important as rockhopper chicks seem to vary more in their growth patterns, than the gentoo chicks do. This is also the reason why we have not announced the hatching of these youngsters until now. We wanted to make sure they were growing up strong and healthy!

The keepers have begun to hand feed these chicks a small fish called whitebait. This gets the chicks used to accepting fish from their keepers, as well as giving the chicks’ parents a helping hand! The rockhopper parents are also given extra feeds to supplement their chicks constant demands for regurgitated fish (sounds delicious doesn’t it!).

This is especially important in the case of the smaller chick. He can be seen towards the back of the nest site, with his parents. His mother wears a yellow band on her left flipper, and his father ‘Reuben’ wears a light blue band on his right flipper. This is the same pair that raised ‘Tristan’, last year’s surviving chick, and they are excellent parents. However, this year, the female has been suffering from hip problems, which have made it difficult for her to feed her chick. Therefore ‘dad’ has been trying to provide all the food and nutrients for his chick, single-handedly. Not an easy feat!  This explains why their chick is smaller than the other, and as a result the keepers have been paying particular attention to Reuben and his youngster, by paying them a visit at least 5 times a day, to provide as much fish as required.

 Proud parent ‘Reuben’ looks over his youngster

Proud parent ‘Reuben’ looks over his youngster

Finally, we are pleased to announce the birth of yet another Nyala antelope on the 19th April. The new male has been named ‘Kya’ meaning ‘diamond in the sky’. He has joined the other young Nyala born this year, along with the rest of the herd, out in the African plains enclosure.


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§ One Response to The Beavers are Back!

  • Fiona Gomes says:

    Very interested to hear the beavers have now been released and spotted around the Knapdale area. By the way, if people are searching for information on this on the internet, they will search under Argyll, not Argyle.

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