Chief Executive’s Blog

July 27, 2012 § 2 Comments

Chris West Hello and welcome to my first blog as CEO of RZSS. Started by interim CEO Hugh Roberts, it’s a great communication tool that I’d like to continue using. I hope you will log on each week to read my updates. Hugh’s tremendous contribution over 15 months has been acknowledged elsewhere but as his successor I feel I must add my thanks to him for a warm and welcoming handover.


Almost two weeks ago I started here in Scotland, joining this very special organisation. Currently I’m just adjusting to the weather after being based in Australia for a number of years. In fact the main thing I’m getting used to is the rain – I hadn’t seen much for six years before relocating back to the UK!


I’m very happy to be here as part of the team looking ahead into the long term. The RZSS has a tremendous record of achievement, a sense of purpose and pride. I see us as much a conservation organization that manages zoos as a zoo organization that ‘does’ conservation. I am a great believer in the power of zoos to make a real difference through science-based, integrated conservation programmes stretching out from breeding of endangered species in a zoo or park and connecting people with nature via experience and education to securing wild habitats. We are rooted in our local community and are a cause for national pride and we reach out globally. Our work only succeeds if we engage with people whether it is part of running the essential visitor attraction businesses to fund ourselves or whether it is gathering more members and supporters or whether it is ensuring human communities and societies live in balance and respect with and for nature.


I am a conservationist by vocation, a biologist by interest and a vet by training. I have worked in academia, business and in conservation zoos. I feel at home here and am very impressed by the commitment and professionalism of the new colleagues I am meeting on both sites, including the Board members who give their time and energy generously to the Society.


These past two weeks I’ve spent time immersing myself in life at Edinburgh Zoo and the Highland Wildlife Park. I have met excellent teams and people who work together and interlink in what they do for the Society’s overall goals. Both sites are large and have their challenges…but also tremendous opportunities.


I see my role as enabling this amazing, diverse and passionate organisation to move forward into a bright future. I’m very proud to be here.


But enough about me, onto what has been happening in the last couple of weeks across the Society…


Edinburgh Zoo’s Penguins Rock appeal launched just two weeks ago is going extremely well. It has already raised over £22k out of the £100k target. Kind donations have been gratefully received from across Scotland and the UK. Many people have purchased special footprint dedications for loved ones that will line the Penguin Parade route once the new enclosure has been developed. I’ve been delighted to see how well loved the penguins at Edinburgh are.


WildGenesWildGenes, the conservation geneticists based at RZSS, have just returned from South East Asia where they have been running workshops as part of a Darwin grant. Linking in with government officials, training they have been doing in wildlife forensics to improve knowledge and capabilities, has been a huge success. WildGenes has now been asked by several other countries to get involved in other similar projects, which although still at the early stages, are extremely exciting for RZSS.


On the animal side, Edinburgh Zoo introduced a new young male Asiatic lion this week. Jayendra, often known as Jay, recently moved in with adult female Kamlesh and the pair are bonding well. Asiatic lions, which are one of the seven subspecies of lions, could in the past be found in large numbers throughout Southwest Asia. Now due to habitat loss and poaching, these majestic animals can only be found in the Gir Forest National Park in India. There is thought to be around as few as 175 of these lions left in the wild today.


The Eastern Kiang herd at the Highland Wildlife Park, the only place in the UK where they can be seen, is continuing to grow in size as this year’s breeding season saw the herd welcome three new foals. Eastern Kiangs, also known as the Tibetan wild ass, are a member of the horse family and they are also the largest species of wild ass. These animals are native to the high altitudes of the Tibetan Plateaux and are striking to look at with a light brown coat and white under parts and legs. With the latest new-borns, born just days apart, the Park is now home to an 11 strong herd.


Excitingly, keepers at the Park also hope that another batch of Scottish Wildcat kittens have been born recently. Although it’s just a case of waiting to see, it might be that a second pair – Fluffy and Betidh – may also have produced offspring. Brave and Merida, now 3 ½ months old, were born to wildcat mum Seasaidh and eight year old dad Hamish in early April.


Edinburgh ZooBack to Edinburgh Zoo, and it’s nearly time to celebrate the giant pandas’ first birthday celebrations on Scottish. Yang Guang (Sunshine) the male will be nine on 14th August, closely followed Tian Tian (Sweetie) who also turns nine on 24th August. A great renewed opportunity to celebrate the giant pandas important educational and conservational presence in Scotland, we looking forward to celebrating the days with visitors and the wider public.


I won’t give too much away yet, but the panda keepers are planning birthday surprises for the pair. Yang Guang is likely to get masses of box shaped presents made out of bamboo canes and Tian Tian can look forward to a large ice cake made from honey water…panda heaven I presume!


Our Education department will also involve schools in the celebrations with a GLOW event (schools intranet web cast).  Looking at cultural stories about birthdays, at food for pandas (including panda cake) verses food for people and at why we celebrate with birthday cakes. There will also be various events taking place between the two dates at the Zoo.


I’ll end by saying I hope you enjoyed reading my first post and I look forward to posting again next week.


Best wishes,




§ 2 Responses to Chief Executive’s Blog

  • barrythebook says:

    Welcome to the RZSS. Hope to meet you soon.
    Barry Thurston

  • Jan Cecchi says:

    Hi Chris – didn’t have a chance to catch up before you left Adelaide. Congratulations on your appointment – how fabulous for Edinburgh.
    I am happily following your panada cam and of course SDZ with their new cub. Cheers to the family. Wishing you great joy and contentment in Scotland.

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