I am very pleased to share that last night the Cairngorms Wildcat Project, a partnership between the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA), Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association, and Forestry Commission Scotland, won the Innovation Award at the 2013 Nature of Scotland Awards.
Scottish wildcat by Katie Paton
The judges recognised the Project’s ground-breaking work to better understand the conservation status of the Scottish wildcat within the Cairngorms. Launched in 2009, the Project aimed to raise awareness within the local community about the plight of the wildcat and encourage responsible domestic cat ownership, as well as monitor the wildcat population within the area and gather important genetic information to assess the extent of hybridisation.
Although the Cairngorms Wildcat Project concluded in 2012, its work has been a precursor to the recently launched Scottish Wildcat Conservation Action Plan, in which all five partners are also involved. Information gathered during the Project has also been used to develop SNH’s species action framework.
Also nominated in the same category was the Scottish Beaver Trial – a partnership between Scottish Wildlife Trust, the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland and Forestry Commission Scotland. Many of you will know that the Scottish Beaver Trial is the first licensed mammal re-introduction trial to ever take place in the UK and our findings will hopefully pave the way for future programmes. The Trial has experimented with innovative ways to study beavers and their effects and we see it as an important and pioneering step towards further understanding species reintroduction and how it may play a role in ecosystem restoration. Great recognition all round for both projects.
Staying with Scottish conservation projects, last week our Zoo and Environmental Skills Training (ZEST) secondary school pupils who are currently taking part in a work experience programme at Edinburgh Zoo, visited the Trossachs National Park to learn about water vole conservation. A RSPB and Forestry Commission Education Officer, Lucy Tozer, met the students at the David Marshall Lodge and gave a talk about the project including, the history of the water voles in the park, threats to water voles, and the process of reintroduction and surveying. The students then went into the forest and undertook a survey for water voles, looking for field signs and learning how to define and record a survey area. Our Discover and Learning team tell me they were also lucky enough to have an experienced bat expert on hand as well, so the students had a chance to see an examination of a live pipistrelle bat and hear all about how we monitor the Scottish bat populations.
On lighter note, Edinburgh Zoo’s troupe of brown capuchins in the Living Links enclosure enjoyed special Halloween-themed enrichment hung from trees in the outdoor enclosure. Capuchins are very intelligent and inquisitive and greatly enjoy interacting with the various activities or treats they receive. By hanging the enrichment there is an added level of complexity, which will mean the capuchins have to use their prehensile tails and excellent climbing skills to reach their treats. Providing both mental and physical stimulation for the monkeys, things like this also give visitors the opportunity to see the troupe display natural behaviours normally seen in the wild.
“Don’t blow it – good planets are hard to find” quoted in Time