Penguins…and wild cats!

February 4, 2010 § 1 Comment

The gentoo penguin colony had their annual health check last week, and just like any trip to the doctors, the penguins do not look forward to this necessary part of their husbandry regime!

The keepers carry out the checks in the ‘creche’ area of the penguin enclosure (the smaller enclosure and pool, next to the larger one), and so the first step is to herd as many penguins into this area as possible. The keepers will attempt to get every single gentoo penguin in for their health check, but there are always one or two individuals who manage to avoid it and won’t go anywhere near the tunnel! To catch up these penguins would be unnecessarily stressful (for both penguins and keepers!) and so the keepers accept that some individuals don’t get checked every year. This isn’t such an issue, as every penguin is checked daily during their feed, and keepers will spot signs of illness in this way.

This year the keepers managed to health check 104 gentoo penguins. Once the penguins are in the crèche area, they are caught up individually for a full examination. Vets are on hand to help   check their lungs; the inside of their beaks; their feet and their preen glands. Feather and blood samples are also taken, and the penguins are weighed. Sometimes feet and beak measurements are also taken for data collection purposes. Such data may be useful for research purposes in the future.

A penguin has its feet checked out

These checks and samples will highlight any abnormalities that may cause problems for the penguins. They can also inform keepers and vets of any improvements or deterioration to previous or current conditions that penguins may have. From this information, the vets and keepers can work together to decide if penguins require any additional care or medicines, or if they need to be kept a close eye on.

Keepers are also looking at changing the diet of the gentoos from their current diet of whiting, to a new eco-friendly diet of MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) certified hake! As a result of this, they were particularly keen to take blood samples from the penguins for a ‘before and after’ comparison, to ensure that the diet change is working for the birds.

The cutting-edge penguin-weighing contraption!

The penguins are not the first animals to take a turn towards a sustainable diet in the zoo; the Patagonian sealions have already begun gobbling up MSC certified herring on a daily basis! Our Edinburgh zoo penguins alone consume over 50 tonnes of fish per year and so it’s important that our fish-eating species make the switch to eating sustainable sourced fish, in order to preserve fish stocks for future generations.

Inspired by the penguins new eco-friendly diet? Why not help contribute to the preservation of fish stocks too? Visit to download a free pocket good fish guide and look out for the MSC label when shopping! Simply making the decision to eat pollack instead of cod can make all the difference! Visit for more information.

The MSC label – a sure-fire sign that your fish is sustainably sourced

As you many know, the RZSS is a partner in many conservation projects happening around Scotland. One of which is the Cairngorms Wildcat Project; a project which works to secure the future of the Scottish wildcat through practical conservation; raise awareness of the plight of this iconic species, and promote public support of its conservation. As part of this partnership, RZSS will be placing camera traps around the Cairngorms national park in the hope of catching a glimpse of this rare and native animal.

Our staff, up at the Highland Wildlife Park, are currently testing out the camera traps to make sure they work and to get to grips with the new technology. Over the last week the traps have been placed around the grounds to see if they would catch any of the late night visitors to the park. One morning, while going through the footage caught on the traps, (and to our great surprise!) one camera revealed what looks very much like a Scottish wildcat! They are a difficult species to identify (being very similar to tabby cats) but the cat in the image does have the tell-tale (sorry about the pun) striped tail and the size is right. Have a look and see what you think!

You can find out more information about the project and learn how to identify Scottish wildcats by going to

Wild cat or not wild cat?


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