Chief Executive’s Blog

March 15, 2013 § Leave a comment

Two RZSS conservation scientists, Dr Rob Ogden and Dr Ross McEwing, are currently attending the CITES conference of the parties (CoP16) in Bangkok, Thailand. CITES is an international agreement between governments that aims to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival in the wild. Rob and Ross specialise in wildlife forensics and work in partnership with RZSS on many projects fighting wildlife crime.  They are in Bangkok to discuss these issues with some of the world’s leading authorities in the field and their governments.

This week, Rob gave a presentation in a session, organised by the Asian development bank, about how forensic techniques can aid in CITES law enforcement.  Over the past three years, Rob and Ross have helped to establish a series of labs throughout South East Asia, including one in Thailand, to carry out forensic testing for the illegal animal trade investigations. DNA samples from seized animal products can be used to identify whether the species is protected, work out the sex of the animal and by using existing DNA databases, lab workers can on occasion identify the area the animal was poached from. This information can then be used as evidence to help prosecute illegal wildlife traders.

In other news from CITES, for the first time ever several sharks species have been listed under CITES along with some species of manta rays.  This is considered to be a major breakthrough for marine conservation. More controversially, South Africa has called for a discussion on the idea of selling their rhino horn stock pile to raise money for conservation. Rhino horns are commonly used in Chinese medicine as they believe them to have strong healing powers however the high demand for horn is driving poaching, especially in South Africa where over 680 rhinos were poached in 2012.

The USA put forward a proposal to ban cross border trade of polar bear products but despite being supported by 38 parties, the proposal was refused. Canada fought against the ban with support from Inuit populations who argue that the trade of polar bear products is their livelihood and said that they only traded goods from less than 1% of the polar bear population. Canadian officials also argue that there are flaws in the science presented by the USA surrounding the decline of polar bear.

While all of this has been going on Rob and Ross have been in several meetings discussing the potential to develop RZSS field based conservation projects in Southeast Asia which could lead to some very exciting findings.  The CITES conference continues until the end of the week, you can keep up to date with all the issues at .

Photo by Matt Hunt - Save the Bears

Photo by Matt Hunt – Save the Bears

Last week I also mentioned our veterinary surgeon Romain Pizzi was in Laos training wildlife veterinarians in cutting edge keyhole surgery techniques and this week I have some photographs of his trip to share with you.

In the last three years Romain has made three previous trips to Cambodia, and two trips to Vietnam (with another trip to Vietnam due later this year), to assist with training and welfare veterinary work with Free The Bears Fund, which is a charity working with Asian bears (Sun bears, “Moonbears” or Asiatic black bears, and Sloth bears). The charity runs the largest sunbear sanctuary in the world, at Phnom tamao in Cambodia, and also supports the largest bear sanctuary in the world, holding rescued sloth bears, in India. In total the charity supports over 600 rescued bears in Asia.

This builds on previous training trips, which have resulted in amongst other achievements, safe gaseous anaesthesia use in all the sanctuaries; training in dental examinations and treatment techniques; performing the world’s first minimally invasive surgical removal of diseased gallbladders from bears rescued from illegal bile farming; and training of the use of minimally invasive surgical techniques in bears. We are all extremely proud of Romain’s work.

On site at Edinburgh Zoo, our revamped Penguin enclosure, Penguins Rock, opened to visitors. Packed full of new features, the outdoor penguin pool includes lowered fencing made of glass and wood, a new entrance gateway, a mock sandy beach for the penguins, rock waterfalls and diving boards, and new modern interpretation. Please do come and visit and see the bird’s revamped home. Also worth a look is this amazing panoramic image of Penguins Rock taken by photographer Ivon Bartholomew,17.10,80.8

vicunaStill at the Zoo, our gardens team are busy doing lots of new plantings, particularly around the sunbear enclosure and brilliant birds, and are being kept occupied with spring maintenance.

At the Highland Wildlife Park, we will be developing the gate kiosks which will be replaced with a wood clad eco building at the beginning of May. A new vicugna holding area is also proving a great success; with the team being able to successfully catch all five vicugna last week to give each of them a health check and take blood samples for testing. The holding areas was created for this very purpose, as the five acre enclosure in which they live makes it extremely hard to catch these fast runners!

Best wishes,



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