Chief Executive’s Blog

June 30, 2015 § Leave a comment


I start my blog on a sad note this week, as we unfortunately received news from the Giant Armadillo Conservation Project in the Pantanal that Alex, the young giant armadillo that Dr Arnaud Desbiez and his team have been following since his birth nearly two years ago, has recently passed away.

Arnaud found Alex in one of his mother’s old burrows with injuries indicative of a puma attack, the only animal capable of causing such damage to a giant armadillo. Alex managed to escape the predator, but unfortunately his injuries were too severe and he died two days later. The entire Giant Armadillo Conservation Project team are upset and saddened by Alex’s death. They have been monitoring him closely for nearly two years and have gained extremely valuable information and research from the young armadillo. Before the Giant Armadillo Conservation Project not much was known about giant armadillos and Alex has been fundamental to the research into this fascinating species. His life and interactions with his mother had been carefully documented and he showed the project that parental care in giant armadillos was much longer than ever imagined.

Alex the armadillo at various ages by the Giant Armadillo Project

Alex the armadillo at various ages by the Giant Armadillo Project

Pictures of Alex were featured in numerous media worldwide, including the BBC and National Geographic. He was an ambassador for his species and he will be missed by the entire team. His death has highlighted the battle these rare ancient creatures face for survival, as well as the importance of long term studies to help us understand and conserve these creatures. There is still so much more we need to learn about giant armadillos, but the team are very grateful for all the insights Alex has provided into the life of these remarkable animals.

Elsewhere, in our WildGenes lab at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo, we are saying goodbye to our placement student Jo who is returning to her studies at Cardiff University. Over the last year she has assisted the WildGenes lab with numerous projects and has also completed a successful research assignment on the taxonomy of sand cats. We will be welcoming another student to the lab in September.

Velu and mum, Heleen by Mike Gilburt

Velu and mum, Heleen by Mike Gilburt

The baby chimpanzee at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo, Velu, has celebrated his first birthday this week on Wednesday 24 June. Velu is quite special as he is the first chimpanzee to be reared successfully in Scotland for 15 years and his first birthday is in the same year as the 10 year anniversary of RZSS’s work with wild chimpanzees at the Budongo Conservation Field Station in Uganda. Velu is a pure Western chimpanzee, an underrepresented subspecies of the common chimpanzee, although all chimpanzees are classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List.

Velu is now a toddler, learning how to walk and play, and he is starting to eat small amounts of solids. He never wanders far from his mother Heleen, as chimpanzees are completely dependent on their mothers for a few years. He will start to explore more independently when he is two years old and will only wean from his mother’s milk between three and four years old.


Turkmenian markhor kid

At RZSS Highland Wildlife Park, meanwhile, we have had a number of new births, including European elk twins, Turkmenian markhor kids (including a set of twins), Himalayan tahr lambs, five red deer calves, Bukhara deer calf, lynx kittens and a muskox calf. The arrival of all these new-borns is wonderful news as some of these species face the threat of extinction in the wild. The Turkmenian markhor is classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List, whilst the Himalayan tahr is listed as Near Threatened, with population numbers believed to be in significant decline due to hunting and habitat loss. The Park has also recently won a BIAZA award for the successful husbandry of European elk, as they are a notoriously difficult species to breed in captivity.

“Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land.” – Ibid.


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