Chief Executive’s Blog

December 27, 2013 § Leave a comment

Merry Christmas!

I hope everyone is having a wonderful Christmas and enjoying their festivities. As this is my final blog for 2013, I thought I would ring out the year by reflecting on the many achievements we have seen across the Society as a whole.

2013 saw Edinburgh Zoo celebrate its centenary with a bumper crop of events for visitors, members and adopters. The centenary exhibition held in Central Library in April, then hosted for the rest of the year at the Zoo, received an overwhelmingly positive response; this was perfectly complemented by the BBC documentary Animal Magic, which aired in July. The Zoo also launched its inaugural Edinburgh Zoo Nights events – both of which sold out weeks in advance and are returning in 2014. During the summer visitors were able to enjoy the Zoo’s centenary sand sculpture and beach in the city, helped of course by the superb warm weather.

Koala joey by Craig Brown

Koala joey by Craig Brown

This year also saw the birth of the UK’s first ever koala joey at Edinburgh Zoo! The joey was born in May to two-year-old Alinga, who had only arrived at the Zoo in February; an immense achievement for the Zoo’s koala team. As solitary animals, breeding koalas requires significant skill and knowledge, so for Alinga to be successfully mated and then give birth after the first attempt is extraordinary.

Of course, I cannot fail to mention giant pandas Tian Tian and Yang Guang, with this year’s breeding season being the first time artificial insemination was performed on a giant panda in the UK. The pair remain exceedingly popular with visitors to the Zoo and have just received their one millionth visitor two years after their arrival!

In terms of infrastructure and development, 2013 saw the grand opening of Penguins Rock, Edinburgh Zoo’s completely refurbished penguin enclosure. The project was one of the Society’s biggest fundraising campaigns for a number of years, with over £138,000 raised towards the £750,000 cost of the renovations. In July, the Zoo also re-opened the newly renovated Koala Territory, which provides visitors with a much more immersive experience. In November, a brand new pedestrian walkway was opened at the Highland Wildlife Park, allowing walkers to enter the Park without a vehicle and get up close to the animals living in the front reserve.

Highland Wildlife Park has also experienced an outstanding year for new births, with 76 per cent of animals able to breed doing so. This has included the arrival of Murray and Viktor, Scotland’s only tiger cubs. The pair were born to Dominika, who was in turn born at the Park in 2009.

Photo by Peter Jolly

Photo by Peter Jolly

In conservation, the Giant Armadillo Project received a commendation in the new discoveries category of BBC Wildlife Magazine Camera Trap 2013 Awards – this project is doing amazing work in raising the profile of a very illusive creature within its native South America as well as around the world. September saw the launch of the Scottish Wildcat Conservation Action Plan, a crucial project aimed at safeguarding this iconic native animal from extinction. RZSS is a key partner in the project, with Highland Wildlife Park set to play an important role in the conservation breeding programme, while the WildGenes laboratory will be involved in the genetic testing of animals to establish an understanding of the prevalence of hybridisation within the species.

September was also the month that RZSS held its first Giant Panda Research Symposium in partnership with Jaguar Land Rover China, during which 65 leading experts from around the world came to Edinburgh Zoo to create a five-year research plan for giant pandas. The Symposium was an opportunity to showcase the wealth of expertise within RZSS and to ensure there is continued global collaboration on the conservation of giant pandas.

In summary, 2013 has been without a doubt an immense year for RZSS and this list is by no means definitive. Although we will have our work cut out for us to beat this in 2014, I am confident we can do so.

Best wishes,



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