December 24, 2015 § Leave a comment
There isn’t much that’s more Christmassy than a penguin, as we saw last year with Monty in John Lewis’ Christmas advert. Penguins have always been a huge part of RZSS Edinburgh Zoo’s history – from historic links with the Salveson company who supplied penguins to the Zoo as far back as 1914 to the knighting of Sir Nils Olav, the king penguin, in 2008. Not to mention our world famous Penguin Parade, which began when a keeper accidently left an enclosure door open and a few penguins waddled out! So what better opportunity to celebrate our penguins than with a special winter Penguin Festival?
Earlier in the year, we were contacted by art curator Paul Robertson who introduced us to the work of Ottmar Hörl – a German conceptual artist, art professor and sculptor. We were immediately struck by the installations Professor Hörl creates – the displays of large numbers of sculptures together which alters the way you look at the pieces of art. Ottmar Hörl has developed memorable models of identification and universal emblems that have come to be part of our collective memory, such as the Euro Sculpture erected in Frankfurt am Main in 2000 and the Soap of Innocence, first issued in 1997 in an edition of 82 million copies.
Ottmar Hörl’s penguins, in particular, were an ideal fit for the Zoo and something we were sure our visitors would enjoy. We decided that the main lawn in the centre of the Zoo would be an ideal location, so then set to work figuring out how many penguins would be required to fill the space. After mapping it out, we settled on ten rows of 12 penguins as the most visually appealing formation.
The Penguin Festival opened with a spectacular light show during its first weekend, illuminating the 120 black and white penguins and the historic Mansion House back drop.
There is also an interactive element to the Penguin Festival in the form of a treasure hunt. Five special “Sir Nils Olav” gold penguins are currently hiding in various places around the Zoo waiting to be found. Plus, visitors can enter a competition to win a Penguin Magic Moment if they spot a “Nils”.
Visitors can also purchase the limited edition works of art, with the penguins being available to collect or be posted in the New Year. It’s a fantastic chance to own a piece of Zoo history, so head over to our online shop to p…p…pick up your very own penguin sculpture today.
Film screenings, storytelling and penguin bubble enrichment will also be going on throughout the festival, so hop on down to the Zoo before it ends on 6 January!
Jo Paulson is Events and Experiences Manager for RZSS, and is responsible for delivering a wide range of events as well as keeper experiences and magic moments at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo.
December 17, 2015 § Leave a comment
Our Wild about Scotland bus has been up and down the country in November, visiting schools across Dumfries and Galloway, Moray, South Ayrshire, Fife, West Lothian, Perthshire and South Lanarkshire. We also reached an exciting milestone – visiting our 200th school!
Since the project began in August 2014, we have delivered almost 400 educational sessions to 8600 pupils in 31 out of 32 school districts in Scotland, not to mention the 8800 members of the public that have come on board during open days and events.
When we’re not on the road, we are always busy making additional resources and extending what the project can offer. We’ve recently developed an interactive story session for nursery children following The Adventures of Polly the Puffin. With many schools having nurseries attached, we wanted to give nurseries a chance to explore the bus and learn about one of Scotland’s most charismatic animals.
In our travels this month we stopped in at Robert Burns’ birthplace in Alloway, near Ayr and WWT (Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust) Caerlaverock reserve, which was featured on BBC Autumnwatch. Despite torrential weather, we even saw some of the stars of the show – the barnacle geese.
See you next month,
Jamie and Lindsay
(Wild about Scotland Education Officers)
#Brodie knows best
Inspired by Autumnwatch, Brodie’s been learning all about the barnacle geese that call Scotland their home over winter.
The UK hosts migrating birds all year round from African ospreys in the summer months to Icelandic whooper swans in winter. Being only a few miles from the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) site in Caerlaverock near Dumfries this month we took the opportunity to see the amazing barnacle geese that had flown 1000 miles from Svalbard in the Arctic circle to the Solway Firth. These geese are long distance experts capable of flying over 120,000 miles in a lifetime from their breeding sites in the north to the wintering sites in the south of Scotland. This WWT site has been an incredible conservation story over the last 40 years increasing the numbers of geese from just 300 to around 35,000 by managing the marsh and pasture that the birds rely on so much.
Top teacher comments and Tweets
“Hands on, interactive activities for pupils to take part in. Amazing resources and friendly hosts providing lots of information and guidance for pupils” Dalyrmple Primary School.
“Very hands on and discussion based. Children enjoyed looking for lonks between the items. Staff good at extending children’s thinking through discussion” Lochside Primary
“The resources were fantastic. The presenters were fantastic with the children” Lockerbie Primary
“Hands on, interactive session was interesting and engaging” Castleview Primary
“Lots of active learning opportunities. High level of discussion. Level aimed appropriately” Auchtertool Primary.
Next month- December
Next month we continue our tour, visiting schools in the Central Belt including Falkirk, West Lothian and Fife.
December 16, 2015 § Leave a comment
Douglas Richardson, Head of Living Collections, RZSS Highland Wildlife Park
Since 2008 we have been collecting some basic data on the antlers of our various deer species at RZSS Highland Wildlife Park. There was no specific reason for gathering the information, other than the philosophy that there is no such thing as useless information and one cannot necessarily predict what may or may not eventually become valuable data.
Deer antlers differ from cattle, sheep or antelope horns in that they are grown and shed annually, whilst horns grow almost continually through the animal’s life and are never shed. When a deer drops its antlers in winter at the end of the breeding season, after a few weeks antler buds appear covered in a velvet-like material, a valuable commodity in Chinese traditional medicine, which is suffused with a blood supply that feeds the growth of the antlers. When the antlers reach their full size for that year (they are generally bigger or have more points each year), the “velvet” is rubbed off by the deer to expose the hard, bony antlers. In our data-set, we record the date the individual strips the velvet and goes into hard antler, the date it loses its antlers and the antlers’ weight.
An aggressive, territorial stag can overnight become a meek and mild shadow of his former self as soon as his antlers fall off his head, practically like throwing a switch. I once got a call from a keeper to come and look at one of our big reindeer bulls who was acting strangely. The keeper had noted that his head was shaking a bit and that there may be a neurological problem. When I saw the deer I asked when he had shed his antlers (forest reindeer antlers are particularly massive), and I was told that it had happened the day before. The animal had been carrying almost 10 kg in weight on his head for some months and all of a sudden it had been “removed” and his neck muscles were just taking a bit of time to get used to the new situation; the animal was fine within just 24 hours.
On 21 November we had an unusual event when the bull elk, or moose, dropped his antlers, which was a tad early. We consulted the antler chart and he normally shed them in February, with one pair lasting until mid-March. Our first thought was that he may be poorly, but he is in very good physical shape, his appetite is robust and he is actively associating with the adult female and twin calves. We also noted that the young adult male red deer were hanging about quite close to the female herd without being actively chased away by the herd stag; normally the red deer rut would still be in full swing.
Are these premature shifts in what are normally much later physical and behavioural events just the result of a mild November, or are they possibly indicators of climate change? The continued entry of each year’s antler data into our chart may yet prove to be more enlightening than we first anticipated.
This piece was first published in the Strathspey & Badenoch Herald
December 14, 2015 § Leave a comment
Welcome back to the CEO blog. Over the past few months we have welcomed new blogs from across RZSS, with a number of colleagues now posting regularly about their fascinating and vital work. We’ve been delighted to bring you updates covering everything from giant armadillos to Scottish wildcats and the latest developments from our WildGenes lab and Wild about Scotland bus. Soon we will be bringing you even more stories from across the Society, including the life of a new trainee keeper at RZSS Highland Wildlife Park and updates from the Living Collections departments. Watch this space!
Last week one of our greater one-horned rhinoceroses, Samir, left RZSS Edinburgh Zoo for Istanbul in Turkey as part of the overarching breeding programme. Whilst it is sad to see him go, the two male rhinos at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo had reached an age where they were sexually mature and, as part of ongoing international efforts to save the species from the threat of extinction, Samir will soon be joined by a female. It is hoped the pair will breed and help further reinforce the safety net population of this threatened species. The move mimics the natural process of rhinos in the wild, with males becoming solitary once they reach breeding age and disperse in order to find a suitable mate. Bertus, the other male rhino, will stay at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo as we continue to work up our plans for the next generation of rhinos at the Zoo.
In other conservation news, Fred Babweteera – Director of the Budongo Conservation Field Station (BCFS) in Uganda – and Arnaud Desbiez – the conservation biologist and RZSS’s Regional Conservation and Research Coordinator for Latin America who leads the Giant Armadillo Conservation Project in Brazil – both spent last week at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo. We discussed in detail the work of RZSS in these two far flung locations, alongside future developments and plans for these two groundbreaking conservation projects. With so much achieved in 2015 – from Arnaud’s Whitley Award to the 25th Anniversary of BCFS – there is much to look forward to over the coming year.
On 8 December, RZSS’s Conservation Projects Manager Roisin Campbell-Palmer gave a talk at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) Institute of Zoology for their ‘What is the future for beavers in Britain?’ event. The event discussed the topic of whether beavers could be successfully re-established in Britain and what effects they would have on local diversity. Roisin’s talk looked at beaver restoration in England and the importance of founder selection.
This past weekend, an exciting one-off Penguin Festival opened at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo. The Festival started on 4 December and will run right through the festive season until 6 January. The main feature of the festival is a large art exhibition by notable German artist Ottmar Hörl. The installation consists of 120 black and white penguin statues, displayed upon the main lawn outside the Mansion House at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo. To launch the festival we hosted a Penguin Festival Lights event on Sunday 6 December, which saw the Zoo stay open later and the penguin art colony and Mansion House brightly illuminated. For details of other daily Penguin Festival activities please visit edinburghzoo.org.uk/events/2015/12/penguin-festival/
And finally, the keepers at RZSS Highland Wildlife Park donned their kilts and traditional Scottish attire last Monday to celebrate St Andrews Day. Despite being surrounded by snow, the team seemed completely unfazed by the cold weather and enjoyed the opportunity to celebrate St Andrew’s Day in style!
“Our inability to think beyond our own species, or to be able to co-habit with other life forms in what is patently a massive collaborative quest for survival, is surely a malady that pervades the human soul.” – Lawrence Anthony