Chief Executive’s Blog

May 8, 2015 § Leave a comment


The first of our gentoo penguin chicks hatched this week at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo and the rest of the eggs will continue to hatch over the next two to three weeks. The gentoos have laid around 40 eggs, so we are hoping for quite a few chicks this year. I look forward to seeing all the young penguins as they start leaving their nests and exploring their surroundings.

We have also had a few births at RZSS Highland Wildlife Park over the last couple weeks, as well as some new arrivals. The first new-borns at the Park this year were a Japanese macaque baby and a Mishmi takin calf, followed by a Przewalksi’s wild horse foal and a European bison calf. The young are all doing well.

The Mishmi takin calf has recently been named Snow, in-keeping with the Game of Thrones theme the keepers seem to have become so fond of recently! Last year the series characters Arya and Khaleeshi got their animal doppelgängers at the Park. We have also recently received a young male Mishmi takin from berlin, which will join the breeding herd. The Mishmi takin are a stocky goat antelope, normally found from the Chinese province of Yunnan in the eastern Himalayas to Bhutan and northern Myanmar, and are listed as a vulnerable species on the IUCN Red list.

Last week RZSS research scientist Helen Senn attended the 15th Annual Sahelo-Saharan Interest Group Meeting in Abu Dhabi. This is a meeting of scientific, conservation and government agencies working in the Sahel and Saharan region. She presented her work on scimitar-horned oryx genomics. Highly detailed genetic data like this is hopefully going to improve the management of this species both in captivity and when it is re-introduced to the wild. She also presented her and the teams work on sand cats, a project that aims to try and find out what the genetic basis for the sub-species of the sand cat is.

Dr Helen Senn presenting at the 15th Annual Sahelo-Saharan Interest Group Meeting in Abu Dhabi

Dr Helen Senn presenting at the 15th Annual Sahelo-Saharan Interest Group Meeting in Abu Dhabi

Our RZSS conservation geneticist, Dr Gill Murray-Dickson, was in Battleby last week to present a talk about the use of environmental DNA for detection of species presence or absence. eDNA is genetic material derived directly from environmental samples (such as a loch water), without the source of the DNA actually being present. The meeting was organised by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) to discuss research the use of eDNA as a tool for aquatic surveillance, and other potential applications, with researchers and relevant stakeholders

And finally, after all the excitement surrounding our Latin America coordinator Dr Arnaud Desbiez’s Whitley Award win for his work on the Giant Armadillo Conservation Project; the giant armadillo team is back to work and leaving for the Pantanal on Thursday. Although it is the end of the wet season, the floods have not been too severe and they don’t expect any problems reaching the field site.

Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land.

Aldo Leopold

Chief Executive’s Blog

April 30, 2015 § 1 Comment


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 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 21, 2015 § Leave a comment

We’re into our second week of our six month long Dinosaurs Return! and it is proving to be very popular with children and adults alike. We have received some wonderful feedback from visitors about the exhibition and I am pleased people are enjoying it and learning from it.

Arnaud Desbiez

Arnaud Desbiez

Our RZSS Giant Armadillo team are currently running an expedition to explore forest fragments found in the Sao Paulo state bordering Mato Gasso do Sul. Although giant armadillos have been absent from Sao Paulo for over 30 years, the team are hoping to find evidence of this rare mammal in the area. The previous expedition of this nature may have failed but the team remain optimistic. They hope that the animals will have crossed a large river to return to Sao Paulo from Mato Grosso do Sul. I will keep you posted on any more developments and will let you if the team are successful in finding evidence of giant armadillos in the area.

In my previous blog I mentioned the RZSS giant armadillo conservation team were busy organising the first Giant Armadillo Epidemiology Symposium, which would be held at Sao Paulo Zoo. I am pleased to report back that the symposium was a great success and was attended by over 35 people. The workshop took place between 10 and 11 April and received funding from Disney Coins for Change. As a result of the symposium, new research activities and partnerships have been formed and new lines of research will be initiated.

Edinburgh Zoo scientists at work series

Helen Senn – WildGenes

In further good news regarding the Giant Armadillo Project, the Prins Bernhard Fund for Nature has just approved a grant to support the project’s activities. The Prins Bernhard Fund for Nature was one of the Giant Armadillo Project’s first donors in 2010 and 2011, and we are very grateful for their continued support.

Elsewhere, our WildGenes team are busy training two PhD students in SNP (Single-Nucleotide Polymorphism) genetic analysis techniques. The two students, who are from Gabon and Norway, are using the same techniques for two very different projects. Both of the students are conducting projects on wild animals that require genetic samples to be matched back to individuals or their parents. Stephanie (from Gabon) is using SNP genetic analysis techniques for her project on the illegal trade of elephant ivory in Gabon, whereas Priyank (from Norway) is focusing on understanding the mating behaviour and ecology of Eurasian beavers.


Photo by Keith McGillivray

And finally, if you’re out and about in Edinburgh city centre you may well catch sight of some of our animals moving through the city! We have recently launched a new fleet of Number 26 buses, in partnership with Lothian Buses, which are wrapped top to bottom with superb images of some of RZSS Edinburgh Zoo’s most charismatic animals. The first buses to be launched with the new designs feature our famous penguins as well as our blue arrow tree frog. The other animal buses will be released each week for the next month or so, so do keep an eye out for them. The deal with Lothian buses will continue for the next three years, so the RZSS Edinburgh Zoo wrapped buses will hopefully bring a bit of colour to Edinburgh on those cold, grey days.

“We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”
Aldo Leopold

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

April 6, 2015 § Leave a comment

Dinosaurs Return exhibition opens at Edinburgh Zoo.

The Dinosaurs Return exhibition opens at Edinburgh Zoo.

This week has been very exciting as today (Friday 3 April) we launched the Dinosaurs Return! exhibition at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo.

A lot of work has been put into the exhibition and we are extremely proud of it. Visitors have been streaming in today from the moment it opened, so it looks like being a very popular attraction over the coming months. This is set to be a fantastic opportunity for people of all ages to really connect with conservation and the wider story of the fight against species extinction. The exhibition will run from 3 April until 1 November. For further information, please visit

Our conservation team were in Knapdale, Argyll, last week, monitoring the site of the Scottish Beaver Trial as part of the Scottish National Heritage licensing conditions. We were please to discover two new beaver lodges recently and beavers have been seen on four different lochs. I was lucky enough to spend a couple of days up there with our team in the beautiful surroundings last week seeing the work of the Trial.

The RZSS team also attended the Response for Nature Prioritisation Workshop last week. These workshops hope to build on the work carried out by the State of Nature Partnership, which produced a report to highlight nature under threat in the UK and its overseas territories. It studies both plant and animal species to better understand the impact of modern day life on the rare and threatened habitats which help to support species found nowhere else on earth.

Our RZSS WildGenes work also continues, with a new team member arriving from Gabon to carry out further work on the forensic traceability of elephant ivory over the next five months. This is another step towards utilising forensic DNA to ensure more criminals taking part in the illegal wildlife trade are caught, but we hope that this will also act as an increasing deterrent to future poaching activities.

Arnaud Desbiez researching Giant Armadillos in the Brazilian Pantanal

RZSS Regional Coordinator for South America, Arnaud Desbiez researching Giant Armadillos in the Brazilian Pantanal

Finally, the Giant Armadillo Project team in Brazil has been out in the field in the Pantanal for the past week. Despite heavy floods, they needed to head out to retrieve a GPS tag before its battery runs out. The team will also search for Alex, the baby giant armadillo the project has been following for the last 18 months.

All is connected… no one thing can change by itself.

Paul Hawken

Chief Executive’s Blog

March 6, 2015 § Leave a comment


We are just into the first week of March, but spring doesn’t look like it’s due to arrive quite yet as we’ve had a bit of snow and some cold weather this week. The Highland Wildlife Park was closed on Monday for this very reason, but the polar bears had a lovely time frolicking and playing in the snow. One of the visitors to the park managed to get some wonderful footage of Walker and Arktos which can be viewed here

We are pleased to hear that China’s fourth National Giant Panda Survey, which was funded in part by RZSS’ annual panda payments, is showing positive results that indicate panda populations in the wild have increased by 16.8% over the past decade. The total area surveyed and methodology is different to previous times, however there is now an estimated minimum number of 1,864 wild pandas, which is an increase from the estimated 1,596 animals surveyed previously, and there has been an overall 11.8% increase in their geographic range since 2003. However, there is still much work which needs to be done and pandas are far from being safe from the threat of extinction. Economic development is considered to be the biggest threat to pandas and their habitat, as a result the Chinese President, Xi Jinping, has emphasised the importance of natural habitat restoration, not only for the pandas, but for a whole range of other species as well.

15_03_02_GentooPenguin_KeepersPlacingNestRings_kp_2_fbMeanwhile, the gentoo penguin breeding season has commenced at Edinburgh Zoo with the annual placement of the nesting rings and pebbles in Penguin Rock. The male penguins will choose the best looking pebbles to attract the attentions of their potential mates. The penguins often choose the same partners every year, but some do choose to go their separate ways. The penguin cam will be switching over to the nest site this week to allow people to keep an eye on the nesting. We are all hoping for a successful breeding season and are looking forward to welcoming the new chicks in early summer – around May time.

Beyond-the-panda-36This week saw the launch of RZSS’s new innovative teaching and learning programme ‘Beyond the Panda.’ The programme has been developed over the past 18 months in conjunction with the Confucius Institute for Scotland’s Schools and has been supported by the Scotland China Education network (SCEN). The programme which has been generously funded by Jaguar Land Rover (China) includes outreach workshops, an online learning resource and a free education pack which was sent out to all primary and secondary schools in Scotland this week. The launch of the education programme involved a conference which was attended by Consul General Pan Xinchun and Dr Alasdair Allan MSP, Minister for Learning, Science and Scotland’s languages as well as key figures from the Confucius Institute for Scotland’s Schools, the Scottish Educational Leadership Management and Administration Society and the Languages Team Curriculum Unit for Learning Directorate and Natasha Black, Curriculum Unit Administrator.

Beyond-the-panda-46Eight schools from across Scotland spent the day at the Zoo to mark the occasion and had a fantastic time giving talks, taking part in fun, educational workshops and visiting the pandas. The Beyond the Panda education packs are an introduction to RZSS’ brand new, curriculum linked on-line learning resource that is designed to help schools and their pupils investigate, study and explore global citizenship, sustainability, biodiversity and conservation within the overall context of giant pandas and China.

In the Highlands, it looks as if the oystercatchers who visit us every year are beginning to make their annual return the Highland Wildlife Park as the first two oystercatchers have been spotted out in the arable.

Our head of conservation, Rob Ogden has been in Rome this week attending an annual meeting of AQUATACE, a European fisheries project that is looking to develop methods for tracking fish farms escapees and reducing their impact on natural fish populations in the wild. Our conservation projects manager Roisin Campbell-Palmer and our veterinary surgeons Simon Girling and Romain Pizzi , are undertaking a health screening of beavers in the River Otters, Devon, on behalf of DEFRA, to determine the suitability for re-release as part of a scientific trial reintroduction in England. This trio have also recently had study on, ‘Echinococcus multilocularis detection in live Eurasian beavers (Castor fiber) using a combination of laparoscopy and abdominal ultrasound under field conditions’ accepted for publication in PLOS ONE.

And finally, preparations for our famous Edinburgh Zoo Nights are well underway and we have already sold a large number of tickets for the events. Following the enormous success of last year, I am looking forward to what this year’s event will bring.

Chief Executive’s Blog

February 20, 2015 § Leave a comment

Well Happy Chinese New Year. The year of the goat has begun and, as we enter spring, the days are getting gradually warmer and longer. Spring and summer always prove to be eventful seasons for everybody at RZSS, with the main breeding season for many animals in full swing and a jam-packed set of summer school classes just around the corner.

Velma the velociraptor

Velma the velociraptor

Velma the Velociraptor has been out and about this week ahead of Dinosaurs Return! which will start in April. She has been meeting the public and has proved to be a big hit so far at Edinburgh Zoo and Dynamic Earth. She will continue to meet and greet visitors at various venues across Edinburgh and Glasgow until the launch.

On Monday we receive our actual animatronic dinosaurs, all the way from America. Shipped across the North Atlantic Ocean, they are as realistic as possible and are based on actual DNA research of fossilised dinosaur skin and bones. It will be all hands to the top of the hill as these giants are unloaded and assembled on site. We are inviting press along, so there should be some really memorable photographs taken recording the occasion.

Wild about Scotland bus outside Scottish Parliament

Wild about Scotland bus outside Scottish Parliament

The Wild about Scotland bus, our educational outreach programme in association with Clydesdale Bank, visited Edinburgh Zoo this week, with lots of children taking the opportunity to hop on board and learn about Scotland’s native species. Then yesterday (Thursday 19 February) the mobile classroom pulled up at the Scottish Parliament to engage with MSPs as part of the 10th anniversary of Scottish Environment Week. MSPs including Mike MacKenzie, Bill Kidd, Christine Grahame and Liam McArthur – to name just some – ‘got on board’ the interactive classroom. During the visit to Parliament, MSPs were asked to vote and tweet their hopes for the future of Scottish biodiversity.

If you are interested in the bus coming to your school, please go to our website to request a visit . You can also follow all the action from the bus, including the activity at Scottish Parliament yesterday, via our dedicated Twitter feed

14_12_04_ScottishWildcat_1_kp_fbMeanwhile, our Scottish wildcat conservation work is ongoing. This week our team meet with the Scottish Gamekeepers Association and estate managers in Ardnamurchan, to discuss of the plight of the Scottish wildcat. We are working with land managers to allow us to better monitor the wildcat population and ensure that any predator control being used is wildcat friendly. This crucial work will help to provide the Scottish wildcat with safer areas to roam and contribute to the future survival of this species.

All of the above is sadly very relevant in a week when the world’s largest earwig has been declared extinct. The St Helena Giant Earwig (Labidura herculeana) grew up to a maximum of eight centimetres long, with the last confirmed adult being spotted as far back as 1967. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has now declared the species extinct, changing its status from Critically Endangered. Since the early 1960s its habitat has been degraded, with the stones that it lived under being removed from the island by the construction industry. Through education, research and conservation, we must all work hard together to make sure examples like this do not continue to happen.

“The most important environmental issue is one that is rarely mentioned, and that is the lack of a conservation ethic in our culture.”

– Gaylord Nelson

Chief Executive’s Blog

January 30, 2015 § Leave a comment

Well welcome back to my blog as we start to move further into 2015; here at RZSS we are extremely excited about developments that lie ahead.

The new Edinburgh Zoo dinosaur exhibit will arrive in early April until the end of October and will see 14 life-size, animatronic models taking over the top of the hill. This is a great opportunity to engage children and adults alike with the key conservation messages of RZSS, whilst raising awareness of extinction and the threat it poses to many of the animals in our collection. Many of the departments across the Zoo are working hard to deliver this amazing experience for our visitors, from our gardens team who are choosing the fantastic flora and fauna to create the dinosaurs ‘habitat’, to our discovery and learning team who are developing educational materials to tie in with the exhibition.


Dinosaur plant shopping

Early 2015 will also see the arrival of a female polar bear at Highland Wildlife Park. Her large enclosure has been completed and is ready to house the new arrival. This will be a very significant move and will, we hope, help towards securing the future of this species, which is threatened by habitat destruction and global warming. If she settles quickly into her new home, introductions to one of the polar bear males may happen as early as April. It is still incredible to think that we may even have polar bear cubs as early as December at Highland Wildlife Park. The last polar bear cub born in the UK was 23 years ago.


Walker and Arktos by Jan Morse

Highland Wildlife Park also is likely to get a new male European grey wolf this year and a new female wolverine. The snow leopard enclosure that we announced towards at the end of last year is likely to be completed by early summer, with a male and female arriving from the European breeding programme before this date. In addition we have high hopes for a new pair of European beavers we established at the Park last year, with kits perhaps being born as early as May.


Xale, male wolverine by Alex Riddell

In terms of conservation science, WildGenes our RZSS genetics laboratory is carrying out trial runs on a new wildcat hybridisation test this week in preparation for testing wildcats at the Park as part of the captive breeding programme. Over in South East Asia, our team has met with the Malaysian Wildlife Department to discuss a workshop on illegal wildlife training. Also, our conservation genetics team and one of our veterinary surgeons met up in Hanoi, Vietnam, to visit a captive tiger sanctuary with the aim of tagging (eartags, transponder, stripe pattern and DNA) the tigers as a pilot project; this is with a view to tagging all captive tigers in Vietnam, and hopefully later Lao, to prevent them entering the illegal trade.

Finally, although much of Scotland might be under snow, our latest update from our Latin American researcher, Arnaud Desbiez, who is out in the Brazilian Pantanal undertaking field work, is that they are having a productive, but VERY HOT field expedition. Temperatures are at record highs and most of the time they do not have electricity – which makes things a little difficult!

Arnaud’s team recently caught up with a new female giant armadillo, as well as the two juvenile armadillos they are monitoring (Roberta and Alex). To read more about our work on armadillo species in the Pantanal, please do read this article on BBC Earth online

I have to end on a sad note and express our sorrow to hear of the passing of Mrs Margaret Peggie at the end of last year. Mrs Peggie and her late husband were instrumental in helping RZSS to save Mercedes the polar bear from being shot in her native Canada and in bringing her all the way to her new home at Edinburgh Zoo. Longtime supporters and Patrons of RZSS, we are extremely grateful for all the Peggies have done over the many years and offer our condolences to her family and friends.

“A chain is no stronger than its weakest link, and life is after all a chain”

– William James

Chief Executive’s Blog

December 19, 2014 § Leave a comment


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:

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

December 5, 2014 § Leave a comment

This week we entered December and a thin layer of frost was seen at both Edinburgh Zoo and Highland Wildlife Park for the first time this winter. This turn in weather should signal to the red deer at Highland Wildlife Park that the end of the rutting season is near; a clear winning male has yet to be sighted in the herd.

Baby armadillo Rica

Baby armadillo Rica

Christmas came early this week for little Rica, the young three-banded armadillo at Edinburgh Zoo. On Monday she was delivered her first ever present by People’s Postcode Lottery – a smelly box of mealworms and ants which she immediately got her claws into.

The start of the festive season is also being celebrated online this week with our 12 Days of Christmas Facebook competition which is running until Monday 8 December. It’s a simple sweepstake competition where participants enter their email address in the designated box on the Facebook page to be in with a chance to win a wild prize every day. Winners will be picked out of a virtual Santa hat at random.

Our second Christmas Shopping Night will be held on Wednesday 10 December. As with the night a couple of weeks back, there will be exclusive discounts and the opportunity to meet Santa. Additional festive cheer will ring through the gift shop as the junior school choir from St George’s School for Girls will sing Christmas carols whilst you shop. Mulled wine and food for tasting will also be of plenty. More information at:

On Thursday, the students of RZSS’ Zoo and Environment Skills Training (ZEST) programme for this academic year took part in an enrichment day. If you are not familiar with the ZEST programme, it is a vocational opportunity for students aged 15-17 to undertake work experience across various departments in RZSS including gardens, discovery and learning, communications, fundraising, visitor services and working with the keepers. At the end of the eight month course successful students gain a recognised SQA (Scottish Qualifications Authority) qualification. All students enrolled in the ZEST programme this year were invited to spend time with members of the Zoo’s enrichment group where they were able to discover more about how enrichment is used at Edinburgh Zoo whilst making their own devices for animals such as sun bears, capuchin monkeys and Oriental short-clawed otters. For example, the students who were focussing on the otters carved out apples and turnips which they then stuffed with mice, nuts and apples. Keepers put these devices in the enclosure whilst the ZEST students stood with their clipboards and observed and monitored the behaviours displayed.

ZEST students on Enrichment Day

ZEST students on Enrichment Day

Dr Arnaud Desbiez, Latin America Coordinator for RZSS, went back out into the field on Tuesday as part of the regular expeditions of the RZSS Giant Armadillo Project. I’m sure you all read in my blog last week about how Arnaud has been observing Alex, the 17 month old giant armadillo, still sharing his mother’s territory– it was previously believed that young armadillos disperse from their mothers at six weeks of age. During the last expedition, Alex and his mother were sighted still sleeping together in the same burrow and have been caught playing together many times on the camera traps. It will be interesting to hear back from Arnaud when he returns in a few weeks to find out if Alex and his mother are still together.

photo by Arnaud Desbiez

photo by Arnaud Desbiez

In my blog last week I spoke about the publication of the independent scientific reports for the Scottish Beaver Trial (SBT) by Scottish Natural Heritage. Today, the final report for the SBT was published by partner organisations of the trial RZSS and the Scottish Wildlife Trust. The ground breaking report documents every part of the reintroduction process over the five year period and outlines all the findings and learnings of the trial. It is hoped the story will prove to be essential reading and form a template for future, similar reintroduction projects. You are able to read the report at

Develop a passion for learning. If you do, you will never cease to grow.

~Anthony J. D’Angelo

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