Chief Executive’s Blog

February 15, 2013 § Leave a comment

At Edinburgh Zoo and Highland Wildlife Park there is an extensive enrichment programme in place. You may have seen me mention animal enrichment before in my blog. It is beneficial to animals as it helps encourage natural species-typical behaviours, as well as stimulating them on a physical and mental level, and of course it is enjoyable for visitors to watch.

Meerkat_bdaycake_4_12.02.13This week Edinburgh Zoo’s mob of meerkats celebrated three birthdays, as females Ella, Else and Ebba turned two years old. Keepers created special birthday themed enrichment for the animals to enjoy including, birthday presents filled with insects and a cake complete with carrot and boiled eggs.

Our two giant pandas were also introduced to a new form of enrichment, as keepers added special durable balls suitable for bears and other large animals to their enclosures. Tian Tian reacted really positively to the new addition, although Yang Guang wasn’t as interested as his female counterpart – his preference tends to be for food based enrichment! Keepers will reintroduce the balls to the pandas every couple of weeks to keep them a novelty and will try swapping them around next time, so the ball given to Yang Guang has the scent of Tian Tian – his reactions will be interesting to watch. The moment Tian Tian saw her ball for the first time was captured on film and makes for a great watch.


Alinga by Rob McDougall

Still at Edinburgh Zoo, a young female koala called Alinga arrived this week from Duisburg Zoo in Germany. Alinga joined males Goonaroo and Yabbra, and visitors will be able to see her in around one weeks’ time. We’re already the only Zoo in the UK to have koalas and the new female arrival is testament to and recognition of Edinburgh Zoo’s animal husbandry expertise and will mean that a little koala joey may be born on Scottish soil in the future.

An outreach programme commenced this week, as our education department visited Broomloan Nursery School in Glasgow. Sharing the same founding year as Edinburgh Zoo, 1913, RZSS is rolling out an exciting education programme with schools in Scotland that also celebrate their centenary this year. Three and four year old children at Boomloan Nursery had the chance to learn all about animal classification and discover different animal’s body coverings, including, fur, feathers, skin or scales. They also met corn snakes, tree frogs, Madagascan cockroaches and giant African land snails. It’s wonderful to be able to take a programme like this out to nursery aged children and introduce them to the joy of life on earth in its many forms.

Still with the next generation, the popular Zoo Tots programme launched again at Edinburgh Zoo this week. It’ll run until mid-April and is suitable for youngsters from six months to five years. The event programme includes music, dancing, painting – you name it – all with an animal theme. Visit for more information on Zoo Tots events.


Oryx by Tania Gilbert

Onto conservation science, two members of the WildGenes team, Dr Rob Ogden, Head of Conservation Science at RZSS and Dr Helen Senn, Research Scientist, are preparing for a trip to Abu Dhabi next week. The trip is part of on-going research collaboration with Al Ain Wildlife Park and Resort in the United Arab Emirates. They will deliver the results of research conducted at the WildGenes laboratory at Edinburgh Zoo into the genetic diversity of Al Ain’s valuable collection of arid land antelope (dama and Speke’s gazelle, addax, Arabian and scimitar-horned oryx) and advise on their genetic management.

Over the last three years WildGenes have worked with Al Ain to assess the genetic diversity of these populations. The five species are listed on the IUCN red list of threatened species in varying degrees from vulnerable to extinct in the wild. The results from the project will be used to manage populations and assess the potential reintroduction programmes back into the wild.

One of the long-term aims of the WildGenes team is to evaluate whether the populations are diverse enough to support reintroduction projects. In any release back to the wild it is important that genetic diversity is carefully managed to reduce the risks associated with inbreeding and give the animals the best chance of adapting to environmental change. The success of this project has led to the possibility of carrying out a similar study on carnivores in the area.

Dr Romain Pizzi, a member of the RZSS veterinary team, is currently also sharing his expertise with colleagues further afield. Romain – who is a pioneering key hole surgeon – is working with a variety of vets from India, Laos and Cambodia who work closely with bears. During this trip Romain will train fellow vets on key hole surgery in bears and the advantages that this style of operating can bring to the animals, with a quicker recovery period being the main advantage.

Wild_Horse_Kiss_Hero(Left)Sara(Right)Lastly, and to tie in with all things Valentine’s Day, a keeper at the Highland Wildlife Park managed to take a wonderful photo of two of our Prezwalski’s horses sharing what looked like a Valentine’s Day kiss. These incredibly endangered animals were once completely extinct in the wild and are the only true wild horses left on the planet. They have had a presence at the Park since it first opened in 1972. The Park has had great success in breeding these impressive horses in the past and keepers are hopeful that a foal will be sired in the not too distant future; helping to secure this species’ future.

Best wishes,



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