Penguin Festival

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.

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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.

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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”.

GoldPenguinVisitors 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.

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Chief Executive’s Blog

December 14, 2015 § Leave a comment

Hello,

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.

Credit_JamieGrant

Photo by Jamie Grant

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.

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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!

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“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

 

 

Chief Executive’s Blog

March 6, 2015 § Leave a comment

Hello,

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 http://www.rzss.org.uk/wildaboutscotland . You can also follow all the action from the bus, including the activity at Scottish Parliament yesterday, via our dedicated Twitter feed https://twitter.com/WildaboutScot

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

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: www.edinburghzoo.org.uk/events

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 http://www.scottishbeavers.org.uk/beaver-facts/publications/.

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

~Anthony J. D’Angelo

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 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

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