Chief Executive’s Blog

June 3, 2015 § Leave a comment

The pine hoverfly may be one of the more diminutive animals RZSS works with, but that hasn’t stopped us getting very excited about our ground-breaking pine hoverfly conservation project!


The pine hoverfly is the rarest species of hoverfly in Britain, currently recorded at just two sites in the whole of the UK, both of which are in Strathspey, Scotland. The species itself was formerly quite widespread – with populations being recorded regularly in Scotland up until the 1940s – but over recent decades numbers have declined dramatically and, in the late 1990s, surveys funded by Scottish Natural Heritage found only two remaining populations of the species.

As a result, the pine hoverfly was listed as endangered. The pine hoverfly is also declining in Europe and is considered to be under threat. Amongst other things, this decline can be traced back to a lack of appropriate habitat, as the pine hoverfly use rotting tree stumps as breeding sites, particularly stumps that are at least 40cm in diameter. The larvae develop and feed in wet rot-holes in the tree stumps and where the heartwood has been softened by the rot fungus Phaeolus schweinitzi. Unfortunately, these particular kinds of stumps are rather hard to come by. Ongoing monitoring has highlighted declining populations so the decision to pursue conservation breeding for release was taken.

Pine hoverfly larvae

Pine hoverfly larvae

We received some pine hoverfly larvae last week, which have been specifically collected from the wild in Finland to begin a captive breeding programme at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo. The Zoo’s Presentations Team will undertake the captive husbandry in specially built facilities behind the Budongo Trail. Ongoing monitoring for wild Scottish larvae will continue and, if sufficient numbers can be found, a captive Scottish population will also be created. If we are successful, larvae will be released into artificially created tree holes in woods in Speyside.

Meanwhile, over at our WildGenes Laboratory, RZSS Senior Lab Technician Jennifer Kaden is preparing a genomic library on the pygmy falcon as part of a project with San Diego Zoo and the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The birds are currently in Sweden and are destined for America; however, due to timings involving permits and quarantine, there will not be time for the genomic work (which will establish which birds are best paired together) to be carried out once the birds reach the USA. Instead, the data is going to be generated here and then sent to the USA in advance of the bird’s arrival. This is hopefully the first step in a fully integrated programme to coordinate genomic analysis between breeding programmes in the United States of America, Europe and Australia.

Up at RZSS Highland Wildlife Park we have had a flurry of new-borns. In the last few weeks we have had a Mishmi takin calf, two Przewalksi’s wild horse foals and two bison calves, as well as a few others which I will tell you more about in my next blog. We are really pleased with the births, especially the foal and bison calves as both species were considered extinct in the wild, but as a result of an effective breeding programme using captive populations of the species, both have been successfully re-introduced into the wild. The Przewalski’s wild horse was re-introduced into its native habitat in Mongolia in 1992, whilst the European bison can now be found in free-ranging and semi-free herds in Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, Romania and Slovakia. The IUCN has now reclassified the European bison and Przewalski’s wild horse from extinct in the wild to endangered.

Przewalksi’s wild horse foal by Alex Riddell

Przewalksi’s wild horse foal by Alex Riddell

A female bison which was born and raised at RZSS Highland Wildlife Park, Glen Rosa, was selected to be a part of the reintroduction project and was reintroduced into the wild on a forest reserve in Romania in April 2014. The re-introduction of these species is a brilliant conservation success story, one which highlights the importance of modern day zoos and the vital role they play in protecting animals from extinction.

“A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers but borrowed from his children.”

– John James Audubon


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