Chief Executive’s Blog

April 18, 2014 § Leave a comment


Hello,

It has been a whirlwind of a week at Edinburgh Zoo. Yesterday was the grand opening of our brand new meerkat enclosure, Meerkat Plaza, and I am delighted legendary Edinburgh author Alexander McCall Smith was present to officially open the enclosure. Alexander McCall Smith was born in Africa and is the author of the bestselling series No.1 Ladies Detective Agency, which is about Precious Ramotswe, Botswana’s first female detective, among many other novels. He has also written a series of children’s books, about Precious as a child, which feature meerkats. Due to his wealth of experience on Africa and its culture, it seemed only fitting to invite him as our guest of honour.

Meerkat Plaza opening with Alexander McCall Smith - photo by Ivon Bartholomew

Meerkat Plaza opening with Alexander McCall Smith – photo by Ivon Bartholomew

The enclosure itself is located on the site of our old sea lion pool and is now home to our group of 10 meerkats. A wide open and natural looking space, the enclosure features many rocky outcrops for meerkat lookouts and sand for digging, while 20 metres of glass panelling allows visitors to come face to face with some of the Zoo’s most charismatic residents. The renovation has also allowed us widen the front entrance area of the Zoo and create an orientation plaza for visitors, with improved signage, carved meerkat benches and space for both animal talks and animal handling experiences. Meerkat Plaza follows on from the renovation of Penguins Rock and Koala Territory and forms part of the ongoing plans for the renaissance of Edinburgh Zoo. I hope you will all be as delighted with the new enclosure as I am.

Tian Tian by Ivon Bartholomew

Tian Tian by Ivon Bartholomew

Our giant pandas Tian Tian and Yang Guang have also kept us on our toes with the arrival of their annual breeding window. On Sunday we were able to confirm Tian Tian had come into oestrus and introductions were attempted in the morning but proved to be unsuccessful. Although giant panda behaviour expert Dr Wang Chengdong from the China Conservation and Research Centre for Giant Pandas (CCRCGP) was confident later introduction attempts would be more successful, Tian Tian’s hormones were falling too rapidly for us to wait and so we moved straight onto artificial insemination on Sunday afternoon. Both fresh and frozen samples of Yang Guang’s semen were used and the two pandas were back on their feet shortly afterwards. As giant pandas experience pseudo pregnancies and delayed implantation, it is very likely we will not 100% know if Tian Tian is pregnant until she gives birth. This is usually August to September but can continue much later, as we saw last year.

As a conservation organisation, we believe giant pandas are too important a species to be allowed to become extinct. Although the breeding window is incredibly brief, pandas are in actual fact not poor breeders, they existed on the planet for many millennia before man intervened and deforestation caused the increasing fragmentation of populations. Our partnership with the China Wildlife Conservation Association (CWCA) allows RZSS to bring our skills in genetics and animal husbandry to assist in ensuring a genetically healthy and diverse population exists ex-situ, as well as in the wild. We are also in the position to aid a fellow conservation body financially.

Furthermore, if we can successfully assist Tian Tian and Yang Guang to breed, we will be adding to the total number of pandas in zoos around the world and in breeding centres in China. The more there are, the greater and more diverse the gene pool is from which pandas can be selected for re-introduction. In the last two years, a male and female panda have been re-introduced into the bamboo forest reserves in Sichuan Province. They are being closely monitored using tracking devices so we will know if they survive, mate and breed, either with wild pandas or each other. It’s a slow process but the experience gleaned from experts around the world in caring for pandas in captivity has shaped the form of release and hopefully over time, more will be suitable for re-introduction.

Turkey vulture by Micky Reeves

Turkey vulture by Micky Reeves

Finally, next Wednesday 23 April, RZSS is hosting a free public talk – ‘Living with Raptors’. Taking place from 6:30pm at the Budongo Lecture Theatre at Edinburgh Zoo, the talk explores the human and wildlife conflict issues surrounding raptor conservation and includes special guest speakers David Doxford, CEO of Falklands Conservation, Steve Redpath, Chair in Conservation Science for Aberdeen University and David Sexton, Scotland Mull Officer for RSPB. No reservation is necessary and for further information please email our events team via jpaulson@rzss.org.uk.

Economic advance is not the same thing as human progress.

– John Clapham, A Concise Economic History of Britain, 1957

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