Chief Executive’s Blog

November 20, 2012 § Leave a comment

Our reputation in conservation continues to grow. Earlier this month, Dr Helen Senn, one of the research scientists in the RZSS WildGenes laboratory, attended an International Union for Conservation of Nature(IUCN) planning meeting on wild buffalo in Nagpur, Central India. The aim of the workshop was to bring together Indian scientists and international conservation experts, to draw up an action plan to rescue wild buffalo from extinction. There are currently only around 1,000 animals in India and they are threatened by hunting, habitat loss and hybridisation with domestic buffalo.  We are proud to say that Helen’s invitation was extended to her to provide vital conservation genetic management advice.

Closer to home at Edinburgh Zoo, our chimpanzee group in the Budongo Trail have been having the odd fight! This has mainly been caused over the females in oestrus and Liberius, who is the equivalent almost of a teenage chimp, has been involved and has definitely been pushing the boundaries with other males in the group. He normally gets put back in his place pretty quickly though, and sometimes by the females in the group, as chimps as animals operate very strong social hierarchies.

Our keepers in Budongo  have also been carrying out an increased amount of behaviour training with the chimps – such as presenting different parts of their bodies for examination – and they are responding very well to this and learning new behaviours all the time. Behaviour training like this is vital to help our keepers and veterinarians carry out essential health checks on our animals. In fact, the latest news story from the Highland Wildlife Park is a prime example of this…

You may have read over the weekend that Arktos, our five year old and 75 stone polar bear male, has just undergone root canal. Keepers had noticed that the usually playful polar bear seemed to be feeling a bit sorry for himself and a bit off his food; then a regular check, where keepers encourage the polar bears to open their mouths for a reward, revealed an area of discolouration on one of Arktos’ teeth. Checks like this mean that we can spot issues before they become a problem and give our animals the best possible care available.

What ensued was a three hour operation on a specially reinforced table made from scaffolding poles and planks – and it took 12 people to life Arktos onto his equivalent of a dentist’s chair! The procedure revealed that one of his teeth had become damaged at the tip and rotted through, so it needed drilling out, cleaning and then packing with dental cement. Broken or infected teeth are a major cause of large carnivore debilitation and death in the wild, so he is one very lucky polar bear to have such a dedicated team of animal staff and veterinarians that monitor his health so closely.

Back to Edinburgh Zoo, one of the students taking part in our annual Zoo and Environment Skills Training (ZEST) programme has recently won an award.  The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) awarded a highly commended to one of the students from Uddingston Grammar School. Our ZEST programme allows students aged 15 to 17 to take part in a work experience programme at Edinburgh Zoo – a pretty unique working environment –the students can take up placements with keepers, marketing, development, gardens, education or visitor services teams.

Finally, hopefully some of you will have been able to catch BBC Countryfile on Sunday evening. The crew visited the Highland Wildlife Park to meet our head keeper Una Richardson and our Northern lynx cats and kittens. The feature also explored the pros and cons of lynx reintroduction into Scotland with conservationist Roy Dennis from the Highland Foundation for Wildlife. You can catch it on iplayer for the next six days


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