Highland Wildlife Blog – Small Fish Creating Waves in a Big Pond

October 22, 2014 § Leave a comment


By Douglas Richardson, Head of Living Collections, RZSS Highland Wildlife Park

Highland Wildlife Park is part of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, the owners of Edinburgh Zoo. Both collections are members in their own right of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA), the important regional body that oversees all the coordinated breeding programmes. After I started at the Park I received the results of a study that measured every member’s contribution towards species management. A minimum ideal score was calculated for your zoo, with Highland Wildlife Park’s contribution falling somewhat short; we were determined to improve our standing.

Red Deer Stag by Alex Riddell

Red Deer Stag by Alex Riddell

In the last week of September each year, EAZA holds its annual conference. This year it was in Budapest, a beautiful city and home to one of the oldest zoos in the world. For the five days of the conference there are sessions with formal paper presentations, but the vast majority of the activity is taken up with individual, concurrently running workshops and committee meetings. Members are brought up to speed on the activities of all the breeding programmes, training sessions are held to acquaint new members, and some older ones, with some of the software that allows us to scientifically manage our animal collections and there are attendees from zoo regions outside of Europe as we are increasingly trying to manage highly threatened species at a global level. EAZA has been developing strong working relationships with our opposite numbers in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the world’s most important conservation body, and as well as providing them with specialist help, the zoo community is now one of the biggest donors to conservation in the wild.

Bison bull by Alex Riddell

Bison bull by Alex Riddell

So what was Highland Wildlife Park’s contribution in Budapest? Two posters and a video were presented on novel husbandry research to enhance infant survival rates of Pallas’s cats, a feisty kitty from central Asia, as well as an update on the coordinated breeding programme we manage and the support mechanism we have established for Pallas’s cat researchers in the field. Updates and recommendations were discussed for the takin, a large goat-like beast from the eastern Himalayas, and European bison breeding programmes we manage. Four separate presentations were given to explain how we will be able to exchange animals and manage threatened hoofed mammal breeding programmes with our colleagues in North America and Asia; currently we cannot import hoofed mammals from Asian zoos. We chaired a session that oversees all the wild goat and sheep breeding programmes, an increasingly threatened group of mammals, and we were asked to contribute to a policy session that was to address the problem that hybrid tigers present to tigers of known origin. Advice was sought of us on a wide range of topics from Amur leopard enclosure design to how an American institution may be able to get fresh blood for a large captive herd of Nilgiri tahr, an odd hoofed mammal from southern India. I think it is safe to say that we have increased the wave height in our pond.

This piece was first published in the Strathspey & Badenoch Herald.

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