Highland Wildlife Blog – Swords into Ploughshares

October 6, 2015 § Leave a comment

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

RZSS Highland Wildlife Park regularly gets approached by companies and other groups to assist with a project that would also translate into a team building exercise. We have had call centre staff helping create a natural visual barrier between our forest reindeer and the nearby European wolf pack, and a major insurance company’s staff help build protective barriers around some of our trees to stop the bark being damaged by the animals. More recently we have had assistance on a somewhat more serious scale from a British army regiment and a couple of units of the South Dakota National Guard. For quite a few years we have had help from various segments of the British military, and more recently some of their American counterparts, with some large construction projects, which is not only a significant savings for a conservation charity like ours, but it provides the different units with the opportunity to hone their skills and work as a team.

Bison logs by Jan Morse

Bison enclosure with log fencing. Photo by Jan Morse

In recent years the military have erected the shell of our tiger house, the raised wooden walkway that allows pedestrians to safely enter the Park and the one that takes visitors up to the new female polar bear’s enclosure. We provide the materials, and they supply the equipment and the manpower and it appears to be a mutually beneficial arrangement.

This year they assisted us with a couple of projects that will have a direct conservation benefit, one which is visible to our visitors is the start of our European bison handling area. Staff at the Park manage the European bison breeding programme, which also includes breeding bison for eventual reintroduction back into parts of their historic range; the species became extinct in the wild in 1926 and has been gradually reintroduced back into parts of their former haunts. We sent a female bison back to Romania in 2014 and we plan to send further bison out to that and similar project sites. Before sending out a bison it needs to be ear-tagged, microchipped, blood sampled and generally checked over to make sure it is healthy to travel. Previously we have had to anaesthetise each bison to carry-out the necessary procedures, which can be stressful for both staff and the animal, and we have wanted to build a facility that will negate the need for darting the bison and give us more flexibility in managing them.

This year the army begun to erect the first sections of a substantial log fence that will form part of the bison area. We wanted it to be “natural”, hence the logs, but as a bull bison can weigh over a tonne and be nimble with it, the fence needs to be strong and high enough that the bison cannot run through or jump over it. Our own staff will complete the project, but the combined allied forces have given us an excellent start with something that will enhance our conservation effectiveness for Europe’s largest land mammal.

This piece was first published in the Strathspey & Badenoch Herald

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