The Scottish China Education Network Conference held at Edinburgh Zoo and the Sousliks get Sleepy!

November 24, 2010 § Leave a comment

Sleepy Sousliks!

  With the first snow of the season forecast for later this week it is definitely starting to feel like winter is fast approaching but one animal species at the zoo will be blissfully unaware as they are all holed up ready for whatever weather this winter has in store.  The European Sousliks (Spermophilus citellus) have retired into their burrows to hibernate over the coming winter.  Sousliks, also known as ground squirrels, spend the winter in their underground burrows.  This allows them to survive through the winter, a period during which survival could be otherwise impossible due to scarce food sources and harsh weather conditions. 

Sousliks hibernate in their underground burrows to escape the harsh winter weather

  The sousliks spend their summer when food is plentiful feeding themselves up, building up body fat reserves on which their body sustains itself through the winter, in fact they will double their body mass to prepare for hibernation.  It is not just these reserves that allow the sousliks to survive the winter; during hibernation they remain inactive, their body temperature, heart rate, breathing and therefore metabolic rate all drop allowing them the use as little energy as possible and last out the long winter, they will typically hibernate from October to March!

Sousliks eat enough over the summer to DOUBLE their body mass ready for their winter hibernation!

  Sousliks are found throughout Europe, from Czech Republic, Moldova, Poland, Slovakia and Turkey to the Ukraine but this species is classed as Vulnerable by the IUCN red list.  Populations have already become extinct in Germany and Poland ( ) although the european souslik has recently been reintroduced in Poland.  The main threat that sousliks face is habitat destruction; this species is quite specialised in the environments in which they can inhabit and so any changes to these habitats can pose a threat to souslik populations.

SCEN Conference

  Yesterday was a very busy day at the zoo as Edinburgh Zoo hosted the annual Scottish China Education Network (SCEN) Conference.  The Cabinet Secretary for Education Mike Russell joined Madame Tan Xiutian, the Consul General of the People’s Republic of China to open the event which was the SCEN’s largest event to date with over 500 local pupils and 100 adults attending. 

Madame Tan Xiutian and Mike Russell with pupils from Lasswade High School

  The SCEN aims to promote understanding of Scottish and Chinese cultures and environments in schools in both China and Scotland and this global classroom conference recognised China’s contribution to biodiversity and conservation.

  Cabinet Secretary said, ‘Our young people will be faced with a number of opportunities and challenges in the future. By bringing today the themes of Chinese language, biodiversity, globalisation and environmental awareness, this conference will help to inspire our young people as they prepare to meet these challenges.

‘Having recently promoted educational and economic links between Scotland and China through my recent visit, Edinburgh Zoo and the Scotland China Education Network should be commended for their work in hosting and organising such a worthwhile event.’

  The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), the Charity that owns Edinburgh Zoo and Highland Wildlife Park was chosen to host this year’s conference because of its ongoing work with China, and hopes to develop these links going forward.

Stephen Woollard, Education and Interpretation Manager for RZSS said, ‘We were pleased to be asked to host the SCEN event this year and we know through our own work and links with China just how important the country is, not only on a cultural level, but in terms of its contribution to biodiversity and conservation.’

Stephen continued, ‘Today’s event has had so much interest that we will be running another event in spring 2011 for all the schools we couldn’t accommodate this time round.’

Students from the 26 schools who attended yesterday have all been developing links with China and this conference gave them the opportunity to present their language and artwork to the Cabinet Secretary. The pupils were also given the opportunity to take part in tai chi classes and a themed activity trail around the zoo, learning Chinese names for animals and which species are native to China.

Judith McClure, Convener of the SCEN added: ‘We have been thrilled with the enthusiastic response to the collaboration between Edinburgh Zoo and SCEN.

‘It is important that pupils see their language learning in relation to their work in other curricular areas, and that they appreciate the importance of the international projects by understanding which lie at the heart of our great institutions, such as Edinburgh Zoo.’


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