Chief Executive’s Blog

October 16, 2014 § Leave a comment

Baginda - Sumatran Tiger

This week we announced the big cat strategy for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland and I would like to take this opportunity in my blog to talk in more detail about it.

As you may know, various new species are entering and leaving the collections at Highland Wildlife Park and Edinburgh Zoo. The existing Big Cat Walkway at the Zoo is to be demolished later this year as it dates back to the 1920s and it is part of the original Zoo design. RZSS would prefer to develop enclosures more in-keeping with a 21st century conservation charity. We looked at the option of further modifications and expansion to them, but in the end felt removing the existing infrastructure was the only sensible option.

I will be very sad to see animals like the jaguars, Mowgli and Rica, leave Edinburgh Zoo. They are a species I love and they both have great characters, but their enclosure has come to the end of its lifespan. The creation of a new state-of-the art facility would cost a very significant amount, likely millions of pounds, and we have to be realistic; we believe that money has to be spent on updating infrastructures across the Zoo – for example for the sun bears and the rhinos. The jaguars will go to a new home with enclosures and possibly other partners so as to create an environment more conducive to their breeding.

With regard to Edinburgh Zoo’s Amur leopards, it was recommended at an earlier point in time by the relevant overarching species breeding programme that they move separately to other collections with new potential mates, as they had proved incompatible as a pair. This is a common occurrence in big cats and the female left earlier this year. It will be a new pair that makes their home at Highland Wildlife Park. The male Asian golden cat, will be moved to an off show area within the Zoo until a new home is found.

We are very excited about the new developments at Highland Wildlife Park – the new snow leopards and a brand new pair of Amur leopards – who will both hopefully breed. Private funding has been specifically directed to the Highland Wildlife Park for these species. The Park has the space and the topography to enable the best housing of the leopards in a first class fashion; it will give us the best chance of aiding the future of both species.

Back to Edinburgh Zoo’s cats, Roberta the Asiatic lion is slowly settling in after her arrival last week and has not yet been introduced to Jay. We hope they will form a breeding pair when they both fully mature. Tibor, the male Sumatran tiger, is another distinctive face we will all miss, but we have to go with the recommendations of the over-arching breeding programme and form a new pair with a new, more compatible male. We look forward to early confirmation as to when our new male is arriving.

We are in the initial stages of exploring the next generation of cat development at Edinburgh Zoo; potentially planned for 2016 and likely involving small cat species and/or a larger spotted cat species. This is still in the early stages though. Cats are really popular with our visitors and members, so we would love to bring them back in greater quantities to the Zoo, whilst working with the space and funds we have at our disposal. We will look to fundraise in the future.

I am also pleased to share with you other developments planned for Edinburgh Zoo. In the near future, we will be creating two new visitor experiences – a lemur walkway and a wallaby walkway. Other likely developments are turning the duck pond into an otter walkway. As you can see, there is a theme of immersing visitors in our experiences!

At Edinburgh Zoo we have an exciting diversity of species and so the challenge is to make sure they are all looked after in facilities that reach – and where possible surpass – contemporary standards, while maintaining a range of taxa. Quality of life must remain important, rather than simply the quantity of species and specimens. Our focus must also be more interactive, engaging areas with presenters and much improved interpretation which tells the story of our science based conservation work.

Plans are also being developed to introduce a new transport solution (an addition to the well-received mobility vehicle) which will enable visitors to travel to the Hilltop to ‘start’ their visit, adding value to the visitor experience and improving accessibility. It is intended that this new facility will be in place at some point in 2015.

Well I leave you with my extra update and hope our plans are welcome additions to both Edinburgh Zoo and Highland Wildlife Park.


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