Chief Executive’s Blog

April 30, 2015 § 1 Comment

Hello,

To start with I want to say that we are all saddened to hear of the passing of conservation luminary, Dick Balharry. He was a wonderful man who achieved a great deal in conservation in Scotland. Over the years he was involved with RZSS and he will be sorely missed by many who knew him. You can read our tribute to Dick on the RZSS website.

I am also very pleased to announce that the Latin America Coordinator for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, Dr Arnaud Desbiez, has been awarded the prestigious Whitley Award for his work on the RZSS Giant Armadillo Project. Also known as the Green Oscars, the Whitley award is awarded by the Whitley Fund for Nature to support the work of proven grassroots conservation leaders in developing countries. Arnaud was selected from over 170 applicants and is one of seven finalists to be awarded the Green Oscar.

HRH Princess Royal presented the award to Arnaud last night, at a ceremony held at the Royal Geographical Society, London. The award is worth £35,000 of funding which will go towards Arnaud’s work to conserve the rarely sighted giant armadillo in Brazil. We are all extremely proud of Arnaud and his spectacular work.

Giant Armadillo Project by Kevin Schafer

Giant Armadillo Project by Kevin Schafer

Still with giant armadillos, in my blog last week I mentioned that the RZSS Giant Armadillo Project team were running an expedition to find evidence of giant armadillos in forest fragments in the Sao Paulo state bordering Mato Gasso do Sul, where giant armadillos have not been seen for the past 30 years.

We have just received feedback from the team and thus far they have just found very old evidence of giant armadillos in the Sao Paulo reserve, likely from an animal that crossed the river and then came back again. There is no evidence yet of resident animals, but they are still hopeful as flooding has meant not all areas have been explored yet. The team will once again visit these areas at the height of the dry season in September to October.

In further international RZSS news, our Conservation Programme Manager in Southeast Asia, Dr Ross McEwing, is currently leading a training course in the Sumatran Way Kambad National Park. The training course has been organised by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and YABI, and aims to improve the collection of dung samples collected for DNA testing to determine the census size of the critically endangered Sumatran rhino in Indonesia. It was previously estimated that there were 200 Sumatran rhinos remaining, but the figures are believed to have dropped to as few as 100, albeit there is no data to provide an accurate census size.

WildGenes

WildGenes Team

Last week it was also reported that Malaysia’s Sumatran rhino population has dropped to a mere three individuals. This is upsetting news as the different species of rhinos around the world are being poached to extinction for their horns, which are believed to have medicinal properties in some Asian countries. Whilst previous DNA attempts have failed, Ross is providing technical support to the laboratory in Jakarta to improve their DNA analysis samples.

Some members of our WildGenes team – Jenny Kaden and Muhammad Ghazali – are busy in the lab on site at Edinburgh Zoo focusing on elephant, wildcat and python projects this week, whilst our conservation geneticist Dr Gill Murray-Dickinson was in Spain attending a start-up meeting for an EU project aimed at reducing fisheries discard.

In my previous blog, I told you about the two international PhD students who are being trained by our WildGenes team in single-nucleotide polymorphism SNP genetic analysis techniques. Priyank, the student from Norway, had a very successful trip and will take back what she learnt at the WildGenes lab here at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo to the Telemark University College (TUC) laboratory. We are also planning to conduct four beaver veterinary studies between TUC, RZSS and the University of Edinburgh, which will include beaver pathology and pregnancy testing via faeces.

In other RZSS news, Simon Girling, our Head of Veterinary Services, was in Paris last week to attend the European College of Zoological Medicine AGM. Here Simon presented original research on grass sickness in Przewalski’s horses at the Zoo and Wildlife Day of the International Conference on Avian, Reptile and Exotic Mammal Care.

And finally, on a lighter note, as spring seems to have arrived with a mighty blast of hot weather, so too does the promise of new arrivals.

We are expecting quite a few births at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo over the next few months. Our Darwin’s rhea adult pair has recently laid eggs and the male is currently sitting. Male rheas take their nesting duties very seriously and are very protective of their impending brood and nesting site during breeding season. These near threatened, flightless birds are incredibly hard to breed in captivity, but last year our bird team managed to help our Darwin’s rheas to successfully rear nine chicks. The youngsters from 2014 have almost all moved to other collections in the vital breeding programme, with the remaining two still to leave shortly.

Gentoo penguins nesting

Gentoo penguins nesting

Still with Edinburgh Zoo, we are also expecting our first gentoo penguin chick to hatch at the beginning of May and there are also a few suspected impending primate births due to happen over the next few months.

Meanwhile, at RZSS Highland Wildlife Park we have already had a few births. Given the seasonal nature of all the species at the park, we generally do not have any births between October and March, but now with the arrival of the warmer weather we have already started welcoming the first of our new-borns. Our Temminck’s tragopan has recently laid three eggs. These colourful birds are considered by many to be the most beautiful pheasant in the world because of their bright plumage.

Our Japanese macaque has recently given birth, bringing the troop up to 22 individuals. The baby is quite small at the moment, but is having no problem clinging onto his mum. We have also had a takin calf born to one of our older females who appears to be doing well. The mother and her new calf, as well as her calf from last year, have been separated from the herd until the new youngster is a bit bigger.

Lastly, our new male wolf, from Jarv Zoo in Sweden, is settling in nicely with our remaining female wolf. Our other wolves have been sent on to Longleat Safari Park, West Midlands Safari Park and a private wolf centre where they have been paired with individual males. Our new female wolverine from Boras Zoo in Sweden has been successfully introduced to our resident male and has been actively digging for and catching voles and field mice.

“The more you know about a species, the more you understand about

how better to help protect them.” Alan Clark

Chief Executive’s Blog

April 14, 2015 § Leave a comment

We have had a really busy Easter period at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo and RZSS Highland Wildlife Park and the weather, which has mainly been pleasant, has certainly helped.

I am very pleased to announce that our Latin American co-ordinator, Arnaud Desbiez, has been nominated for a Whitley Award (also known as the ‘Green Oscars’) for his work on the Giant Armadillo Project in the Pantanal, Brazil. This international prize honours exceptional individuals who, through their outstanding conservation work in developing countries, are redefining the way people engage with the natural world in the 21st century.

Arnaud_CameraTrapArnaud is one of seven wildlife conservationists to have been nominated for the prestigious award and was shortlisted from a group of 174 applicants. The winner will be announced at an event in London at the end of April. We are very proud of Arnaud’s achievements and are looking forward to the announcement of the winner of the Whitley Award in the near future.

We have also had further good news from our RZSS conservation team out in Brazil. After searching for Alex, the baby giant armadillo that they have been tracking for some time, the team have found him in his mother’s territory. Alex – perhaps the world’s most famous giant armadillo – has been monitored by the team since his birth on 2nd July 2013. The team are happy to report that Alex is doing well and is now fully independent, foraging alone and digging his own burrows.

The Giant Armadillo Project team are also busy organising the first Giant Armadillo Epidemiology Symposium, which will be held at Sao Paulo Zoo. The two-day event will be attended by the 13 different institutions that use samples collected by the Project to present their results, exchange ideas and make suggestions of new lines of research, as well as data collection. It is hoped that the Symposium will further advance the field of epidemiology in armadillos and conservation medicine in general.

First gentoo egg of 2015

First gentoo egg of 2015

The penguins at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo are well into their annual breeding season and the first eggs are starting to appear. The gentoos have already laid 22 eggs and our rockhoppers eight. We are particularly hopeful that we may have our first rockhopper chick(s) in six years this year, as this is the first year our younger rockhopper birds have reached maturity and have laid eggs. We look forward to seeing any chicks emerge from late May onwards.

Finally, the Wild about Scotland bus, our educational outreach programme in association with Clydesdale Bank, was at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo this week. Many children took the opportunity to hop onto the bus and learn about Scotland’s native species, such as the wildcat and beaver. The children had a great time learning and taking part in fun activities. The Wild about Scotland bus then drove over to the City Arts Centre and Summerhall in Edinburgh as part of the annual Edinburgh International Science Festival.

“Destroying rainforest for economic gain is like burning a Renaissance painting to cook a meal.”
― Edward O. Wilson

Chief Executive’s Blog

December 19, 2014 § Leave a comment

Hello,

Things have been very festive week at both Highland Wildlife Park and Edinburgh Zoo this week.

HWP_MuskOxBOEUFF_CreditJanMorseAt the Park, Boeuf, the six month old muskox, was surprised with special festive enrichment – papier-mâché Christmas puddings. First of all, I must say a big thank you to the staff and volunteers who spent hours building up papier-mâché balls, then painting them to such a high standard. Boeuf and his parents, dad Myse and mum Karin, kicked and head butted the enrichment about the enclosure and Myse appeared to take great pleasure in completely destroying the pudding. It is wonderful to see the family together as Boeuf is a real success story for the Park. Muskox are notoriously difficult to breed due to high neonatal mortality rates and a low tolerance to parasites. Wet weather can also make calves in particular susceptible to pneumonia.

Christmas also arrived early for giant panda Tian Tian who received a panda cake in the shape of a Christmas tree and topped with a carrot star. Panda cake is a firm favourite with both Tian Tian and Yang Guang and is a special nutritional supplement they receive daily as part of their regular diet. Keepers placed the cake on her climbing frame (in an area she wouldn’t usually receive food) as an added enrichment for her. Tian Tian wandered and sniffed about the enclosure before finally finding the cake. She climbed up beside it and gently lifted the star from the top before eating the whole cake. You can watch it all here:

There was more excitement at the Giant Panda Experience this week as it was announced that Edinburgh Zoo has been nominated for two prizes at the Giant Panda Zoo Awards 2014. Yang Guang has been nominated for “Favourite Panda Outside of China” and one of his keepers, Michael Livingstone, has been nominated for the “Panda Keeper of the Year” award. Panda fans and experts from around the world are invited to vote for their favourites at: www.GiantPandaZoo.com

Wild About Scotland Bus

Wild About Scotland Bus

To round up the week and truly symbolise the start of the Christmas holidays, the specially designed ‘Wild about Scotland’ educational bus has just finished its first term on the road. Since its launch at St Paul’s Primary School, Whiteinch on 29 August, the bus has travelled 2377 miles to visit 53 primary schools, and welcomed on-board a massive 1,918 eager to learn pupils! The interactive classroom has been developed by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) and brought to life by a partnership with Clydesdale Bank.

As I sign off for 2014, I wish you all the very best of wishes for the festive season and the new year ahead.

Great things are done by a series of small things brought together

~ Vincent Van Gogh

Chief Executive’s Blog

November 21, 2014 § Leave a comment

Hello,

Beaver Kit by Phillip Rice

Beaver Kit by Phillip Rice

This week we were delighted to welcome, after five years of study, the publication of the Scottish Beaver Trial scientific reports by Scottish Natural Heritage. The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland was a key player in the trial which was a partnership with Scottish Wildlife Trust and was hosted by Forestry Commission Scotland. The Scottish Beaver Trial was the first ever licenced mammal reintroduction in the UK. European beavers were reintroduced to the Knapdale Forest, mid-Argyll after they were hunted to extinction there 400 years ago. The key findings of the reports will be presented to the Scottish Government to enable a Ministerial decision about the future of beavers in Scotland to be decided in 2015. The five year trial included 11,817 hours of scientific monitoring fieldwork which varied from tracking the beavers to water sampling and has engaged almost three million people about beaver ecology. In 2013, we were honoured that the project was named ‘Best Conservation Project in the UK’ by BBC Countryfile magazine.

greatgifts_relatedAs the weather begins to get colder, it signals that the festive period is nearly upon us. Next week, on Wednesday 26 November, the first Christmas shopping night will be held in the gift shop at Edinburgh Zoo. Children of all ages will be able to meet Santa in his grotto and a truly festive environment will take over the whole shop as there will be carol singers, food tastings and special discounts. More information can be found at: http://www.edinburghzoo.org.uk/events/2014/11/meet-santa-at-our-christmas-shopping-night/

During winter at the Zoo, our popular Animal Antics hilltop show is replaced with an activity in a warmer location and this year our presentations team are running storytelling sessions in the Rainforest Room of the Education Centre. I don’t want to give everything away, however it is an enlightening story with an important conservation message; it follows the journey of Chi Chi the giant panda as he travels through the mountains of China in search of more bamboo because his food source has declined. The story is a reflection of the actual conservation work taking place out in China.

Lasswade High School - China Trip with Jaguar Land Rover China

Lasswade High School – China Trip with Jaguar Land Rover China

Also earlier in the week, I was pleased to sight photos from the recent trip to China by school pupils of Lasswade High School, an experience which I have covered quite closely in previous blog posts and was made possible through a partnership with Jaguar Land Rover China. It is my pleasure to share a couple of these with you.

Lasswade students seeing a giant panda

Lasswade students seeing a giant panda

If you are visiting Highland Wildlife Park, look out for the young capercaillie who went on show last week.

Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher.

~William Wordsworth

Chief Executive’s Blog

November 14, 2014 § Leave a comment

Hello,

First of all I would like to give you a little update from Arnaud Desbiez, RZSS Latin America Coordinator who is stationed in the Brazilian Pantanal. I last updated you in my blog of his work on the Giant Armadillo Project in August and since then the Giant Armadillo Project team has run two field expeditions to monitor all the animals which we are following. One of the main tasks of the October expedition was to fit a GPS tag on 16 month old giant armadillo Alex who we have been following through camera traps since his birth and was the first ever photographed baby giant armadillo in the wild. On the final night of the expedition, the team successfully fitted a GPS tag on Alex which will enable us to continue to learn more about him as he becomes more independent from his mother. This addition means we are now monitoring a total of seven giant armadillos through a combination of cameras and telemetry – a record for the project!

Giant Armadillo Baby Alex 2013 by Pantanal Giant Armadillo Project

Giant Armadillo and baby Alex by Pantanal Giant Armadillo Project

RZSS veterinary surgeon, Romain Pizzi, was also in Brazil this week. Romain is in Rio Grande do Sul, one of the Southern states, where he is teaching wildlife surgery to Brazilian veterinarians. I am sure it will prove to be a valuable teaching experience for all and will help build and enhance the capacity of the veterinarians.

Gentoo penguins

Gentoo penguins

Back in Scotland, I’m sure you have all seen the recent Christmas advert for John Lewis. A realistic CGI penguin plays the starring role and we were honoured that the penguins at Edinburgh Zoo helped inspire the advert; the advert’s production team spent a day in May observing the behaviours of our penguins as they waddled and porpoised through their state of the art enclosure. At Penguins Rock this week, keepers have heard visitors discuss the movements they can see within of our colony and relate these to some of the behaviours of Monty the penguin. It is wonderful for us to watch as members of the public get excited about observing natural behaviours of animals.

Arctic Fox with winter coat by Alex Riddell

Arctic Fox with winter coat by Alex Riddell

At Highland Wildlife Park, Arctic foxes Elf and Kilian have donned their winter coats as their fur has turned white and become denser. This is a natural annual transformation which not only helps protect them from the cold of winter, but also camouflages them in their native Arctic landscape.

We are currently hosting three students from the University of Edinburgh who are studying for an MSc in Science Communication and Public Engagement as part of an eight week placement for their course. The students are based at Edinburgh Zoo and have been concentrating on gaining visitor feedback on some of the interpretation throughout the site. I’m looking forward to hearing their findings which I trust will prove insightful and refreshing. They have also had the opportunity to meet with staff across numerous departments which has enabled them to get a broad overview of RZSS and all the jobs involved.

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.

~Nelson Mandela

Chief Executive’s Blog

November 7, 2014 § Leave a comment

Red November may sound like the name of a horror movie or a particularly gruesome historical happening, but it is actually a fantastic conservation event organised by the British and Irish Associate of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA) to celebrate the significant contribution of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List in guiding conservation action and policy decisions over the past 50 years.

Scottish Wildcat by Alex Riddell

Critically Endangered, Scottish Wildcat by Alex Riddell

Both of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s animal collections at Highland Wildlife Park and Edinburgh Zoo are developed under the guidance of the Red List and our primary focus is often on species classed as Vulnerable or worse. The IUCN Red List has also had a positive impact in regenerating the wild populations of threatened species.

As the name suggests, Red November is taking place across the entire month of November, and the Highland Wildlife Park has set a conservation challenge for visitors, inviting them to solve clues across the Park and be rewarded with interesting facts about some of our species. Extra talks from our keepers will focus on the individual Red List classifications of animals – with categorisations ranging from Least Concern to Extinct in the Wild, with Near Threatened, Vulnerable, Endangered and Critically Endangered in between. The presentations will also explain the threats to each animal’s survival and hopefully inspire action and discussion towards biodiversity conservation.

As an added bonus, the driver of any red cars during November will also be given free entry to the Highland Wildlife Park.

Our discovery and learning team have been in Skye and Fort William this week with our excellent Penguins to Pandas and Beyond the Panda educational programmes. The team have carried out 42 sessions between August and now, with many more due before the end of term.

Earlier this week Marty the Amur tiger featured in an episode of ‘Vets: Gach Creutair Beo’. A Gaelic series, viewers are taken on a journey across Scotland following vets as they tend to animals from small, to large, to the very wild. In this programme vets met Marty when he had toothache earlier this year and filmed how we treated and helped him.

Aubrey Manning OBE

Aubrey Manning OBE

Finally, we have the next in our new series of Tribal Elders lectures coming up soon. RZSS is pleased to present an evening with Professor Aubrey Manning OBE as the second inspiring address Tribal Elders: Words of Wisdom lecture series.

Recognised as one of the country’s leading authorities on animal behaviour and professor at The University of Edinburgh, Professor Manning is a committed conservationist and I am looking forward to hearing him distil his collected lifetime wisdom. His keynote speech is a challenging and thought-provoking message that explores how humans treat the planet, use finite resources and the effects of the ever-spiralling population growth.

Taking place at 7pm on Thursday 13 November in Edinburgh Zoo’s Budongo Lecture Theatre, tickets are free and available by emailing rallan@rzss.org.uk

“Look into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”

~Albert Einstein

Chief Executive’s Blog

October 31, 2014 § Leave a comment

Hello,

As I’m sure you are all aware, today is Halloween and it would be only fitting that it is the theme behind my blog post this week.

The Mansion House, which originally belonged to the Macmillan family stands in the centre of the Zoo and with its Scottish Baronial styled architecture and over 200 years of history, it is the perfect picture for ghost stories. Although I’ve no spooky experiences to share myself (well, yet!) many colleagues across the Zoo like to remind me, particularly at this time of year, that this house where I sit and write to you all is almost certainly, haunted. To put these rumours to rest, on All Hallows Eve 2012 we opened the creaky old doors to a ghost hunter and spiritualist who took guests on a tour of the house and used technical equipment, such as night vision cameras and electric magnetic field meters, to uncover any paranormal activity. I can assure you that my mind was not at ease after hearing the findings of the night…

Douroucouli

Douroucouli

Of course, the Mansion House isn’t the only part of the Zoo creeping through the night, we have a few nocturnal animals in our collection including douroucoulis, also known as night monkeys, and pygmy slow loris who all live in the small monkey Magic Forest exhibit. In keeping with the Halloween theme, we also house a few animals which, although very subjective, visitors often describe as “scary” looking. A regular recipient of this label and Critically Endangered in the IUCN Red List, is our flock of 14 Waldrapp ibis. If you’ve not already spotted them in the trees at the Duck Pond, these birds have long glossy black feathers, piercing black beady eyes and electrifying hairstyles. I will leave it to yourself to decide if this “scary” status is a compliment or not. I’ve also heard reports from both staff and visitors alike that a couple of wild, red eyed albino squirrels also make the Zoo their home.

Waldrapp ibis

Waldrapp ibis

Halloween is a great excuse to get creative with the enrichment our animals receive. To celebrate Halloween this year, keepers stuffed pumpkins with meat and insects as part of the daily feed of our Oriental short-clawed otters. As they are naturally inquisitive, all 15 otters, including the five pups who were born in June, came out of their dens to take a closer look. I hear the pups quickly grabbed some meat before running back to the safety of their heated dens to enjoy their breakfast in peace.

Oriental short-clawed otters with pumpkins at Halloween

Oriental short-clawed otters with pumpkins at Halloween

Tomorrow, Saturday 1 November, members of the public will be given the opportunity to celebrate Halloween by building enrichment items for many of the animals we have here at Edinburgh Zoo, including the squirrel and capuchin monkeys and the sun bears. In addition to making your own items, it’s a wonderful opportunity to engage with keepers to learn about the importance of animal enrichment and the behaviours it stimulates. There will also be special enrichment given to the various animals throughout the Zoo including a whole carcass feed for the Egyptian vultures. More information about the day and a timetable of the day can be found here. www.edinburghzoo.org.uk/events/2014/11/enrichment-day/

Up at Highland Wildlife Park the annual stag rut continues and I hope that at some point over the next few weeks we will know which one of our stags will be in control of the herd.

Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.

~Albert Einstein

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