Chief Executive’s Blog

April 12, 2013 § Leave a comment

Hello again…

In the near future there are some events taking place that I would like to share with you.

On Wednesday 24th April at 7.30pm Professor Iain Stewart will be at Edinburgh Zoo talking about the rise of the continents and what it has meant for the wildlife on them. Pre-booking is essential for this event, so please telephone 0131 314 0379. The event is £5 for members of RZSS and £7 for non-members.


Photo by Alex Riddell

Thursday 25th follows with a talk from our Head of Living Collections at the Highland Wildlife Park, Douglas Richardson. Taking place at Edinburgh Zoo, Douglas will share all the recent events form the Park and talk about all their important ex-situ conservation work. Again, pre-booking is essential and the same costs apply, so please get in touch on the above telephone number if you are interested in attending.

Finally, I will be giving a talk myself as part of The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) series of lectures. On Tuesday 30th April at 6pm, the talk is called From Gannets to Pandas – 100 Years of Progress at Edinburgh Zoo. As you may know, Edinburgh Zoo is 100 years old this year and I will take this opportunity to reflect on its history, future challenges and its diverse activities. In a world that is increasingly crowded, warming and damaged, the role of zoos is even more relevant as ’refugee camps’ and as centres for environmental awareness. More information can be found at

Now onto the international conservation work of RZSS….


A team of veterinarians conducting chimpanzee health checks at CSWCT, Ngamba Island.

Budongo Conservation Field Station (BCFS), which is funded by RZSS, carries out a variety of conservation and research projects in the Budongo forest, Uganda. There is a camp at the field station which allows long term researchers to come and stay while carrying out their work, the fees for staying in the camp then help to fund extra conservation work in the area. At present there are eight researchers living in the camp working on various projects from chimpanzee habituation to research on bats and amphibians. There are also three main conservation projects currently being run by BCFS; an ex-hunters scheme in a bid to dramatically reduce the number of deadly snares found in the forest, chimpanzee health monitoring and community conservation education.

Scientists at BCFS have recruited 110 ex-hunters who have been given over 250 breeding goats as an alternative to snaring in the forest. Since this has happened over 10,000 snares have been recovered from the forest with the help of ex hunters and since the scheme has started there has been a significant drop in the number of snares being found all together.

This month BCFS held a meeting with 73 participants of the ex-hunter goat project to discuss how things can be improved within the project. Group leaders and secretaries were selected in each group to improve communication within the group as well as with staff at BCFS. The groups are looking to be registered at the local government to allow them to gain support that the government offers to groups.

Ex hunter with goats

An ex hunter with his two goats

Current challenges faced by the ex-hunters are: restricted access to building materials for goat shelters and a lack of pasture for livestock as some of the ex-hunters do not have sufficient land and limited knowledge on animal diseases. It is hoped that through these monthly meetings these issues can be dealt with. Community education projects are also reaching out to local schools to encourage and nurture positive conservation attitudes in the young people of the area.

A lot of work is being done to improve the health monitoring of chimpanzees as well as promoting health education within local communities. Wildlife veterinarians are being trained in chimpanzee health to build up a cadre of experts. The veterinary team has gained skills in conducting interventions involving snared/injured chimpanzees. Eight chimpanzees have been rescued from deadly ‘man-traps’ and released back into the wild.

The vet team were recently invited to assist in the periodic chimpanzee health checks conducted at Chimpanzee Sanctuary and Wildlife Conservation Trust at Ngamba Island. The health checks provide a rare opportunity for wildlife veterinarians to get hands-on experience on darting semi-wild chimpanzees and the use of anaesthetics. The vets improved their skills in estimating live weights which is necessary for estimating drug dosage during interventions in the wild. The health checking exercise also provided an opportunity for BCFS vets to access biological specimens for comparing wild and semi-wild chimpanzees.

BCFS is also host to another of RZSS’ projects which focuses on amphibians of Cameroon and Uganda (Conservation and research of amphibians in Uganda and Cameroon). In Uganda the project is at the early stages and general surveying of the area is being carried out to identify remnant species and in actual fact a new species was discovered while doing this.

YG_EatingBamboo_1Finally, I cannot head off without giving a final mention to the giant pandas at Edinburgh Zoo. We have finally seen the much-anticipated crossover in Tian Tian’s hormones which means we are in the final stages before the 36 hour breeding window. This window is expected to occur within the next eight days; however, changes in her behaviour indicate it may be sooner. This is a very exciting time for Edinburgh Zoo and I look forward to sharing with you further developments next week.


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