Chief Executive’s Blog

October 31, 2014 § Leave a comment


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…



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.

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

Chief Executive’s Blog

October 24, 2014 § Leave a comment

Hello readers,

Last week I wrote in more detail about the Big Cat Strategy. On Wednesday evening myself and Darren McGarry met with many of RZSS’ invaluable Volunteers to discuss the details of this Strategy further. The evening proved a very useful opportunity for sharing information and comment. We spoke about the sadness with which we have come to the careful conclusion that we must remove the Big Cat Walkway and it was agreed by attendees that we must first be guided by what is best for our cats. The fact that they will be going to world class EAZA zoos with modern enclosures was welcomed. We also talked about the current financial picture for RZSS and the exciting projects we have planned to develop the visitor experience at both Edinburgh Zoo and Highland Wildlife Park. We listened very carefully to the enthusiastic feedback from the evening and are looking forward to sharing and discussing ideas with our Volunteers on a regular basis in the future.

On the topic of new developments, if you have been into Edinburgh Zoo this week I’m sure you have seen that the new meerkat house is really beginning to take shape and I believe this will prove a fantastic addition to Meerkat Plaza.

Purple pincher crab

Purple pincher crab

This Sunday is the final day of the very popular Creepy Crawlies event which has been held daily for the past two weeks from 9am to 3pm. The enriching and entertaining display has taken over the lecture theatre in Budongo Trail at Edinburgh Zoo. It’s wonderful to see children of all ages immersed in the area and engaging with our extremely knowledgeable staff and Volunteers who are on hand to talk about the huge contribution these little creatures make to the planet. Some of the children were even listening and learning with a slimy giant African land snail in hand! Other animals on display which you may not have seen before include death’s head cockroaches, a Mexican fire leg tarantula, purple pincher hermit crabs and, my personal favourite, an orchid mantis which, if you’re able to spot this delicate little creature, you’ll easily understand where it gets the name from.

Orchid mantis

Orchid mantis

Up at Highland Wildlife Park, the annual red deer rut is ongoing and there has been a change in direction – Zeus has taken control of the herd as Atlas, who has been in charge over the last few weeks, has been ousted. The spectacle is a great display of the strength and the – sometimes forgotten – aggression of Britain’s largest land mammal.

We are pleased to hear that the pupils from Lasswade High School have returned safely with glowing reports of their trip to China. Organised by RZSS and supported by Jaguar Land Rover China, the pupils visited Bifengxia Panda Reserve where they saw lots of pandas in various stages of their life, including the Reserve’s newest panda cubs.

We do not see nature with our eyes, but with our understandings and our hearts.

~ William Hazlitt

Chief Executive’s Blog

September 12, 2014 § Leave a comment


Simon Girling, Head of Veterinary Services at RZSS, recently gave a presentation at the annual European Wildlife Disease Association conference here in Edinburgh. We were delighted Simon was asked to speak. Simon spoke to the audience about veterinary health screening checks he carried out on water voles as part of a captive breeding programme. The Water Vole Species Survival Plan is an overarching UK reintroduction programme, and as part of this RZSS has ensured captive water vole populations are viable for release and will not pose a threat to native wildlife, further developing scientific knowledge on water vole health and welfare. If you would like to find out more, please visit

Budongo by Florian Moellers

Budongo by Florian Moellers

I often write about the work of the Budongo Conservation Field Station (BCFS) and we are extremely pleased to offer RZSS supporters the chance to go on a “No Limits” safari to BCFS in the heart of Uganda. It is an amazing opportunity to witness first-hand the incredible work carried out by staff and discover part of Africa few others are able to experience. Keen travellers will be able to accompany field station assistants as they monitor the wildlife in the forest, including chimpanzees, and help with the local community projects RZSS is involved in. Any surplus income generated after costs are covered will go towards RZSS’ vital work in Budongo.

In partnership with Aardvark Safaris, other activities of the ten day trip include gorilla tracking through the Bwindi forest, a tour through the Queen Elizabeth National Park which is home to tree-climbing lions and a host of other magnificent creatures.

Edinburgh Zoo will host a free information evening on Thursday 2 October with Praven Moman, a Ugandan born pioneer of great ape eco-tourism, and Dr Fred Baweteera, Director of the Budongo Conservation Field Station.  Tickets for this talk are free with drinks and canapés served, but space is limited so please RSVP to

Finally, if you are up at the Highland Wildlife Park, I recommend going to see the northern lynx twins, who at just over three months, can be spotted exploring their enclosure. They have also started to practice their pouncing at feeding time; great natural behaviour that is fantastic to observe.

Northern lynx cub by Alex Riddell

Northern lynx cub by Alex Riddell

I am also off on a few family travels of my own, so shall be back in a few weeks; until then enjoy the amazing wildlife at Edinburgh Zoo and the Highland Wildlife Park as we enter the autumn months.

“Everyone must take time to sit and watch the leaves turn”

Elizabeth Lawrence

Chief Executive’s Blog

May 23, 2014 § Leave a comment

Hello again,

Well this week has certainly been a busy one for the Society.

On Tuesday evening we held the Annual General Meeting of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, with many of our members coming along to show their support and give their valuable input. We really appreciate how much our members care and how much of their time and energy they offer to the Society. They really are central to who we are and what we do.

The evening saw our members elect a new member, Karen Jervis, to our board. Karen has held senior roles across life sciences and business in both Scotland and Australia and has been a member of the Scottish Science Advisory Council. She also has strong links with science academia in the UK, having worked with local universities, the Moredun Foundation and the Roslin Institute. We are delighted to welcome Karen on-board and look forward to working with her in the years to come.

AGM1The evening also gave us a chance to share with our members the highlights from 2013. Jeremy Peat, our chair of the board, told all those present how the two sites – Edinburgh Zoo and the Highland Wildlife Park – received an excellent number of visitors through their doors; brilliant news for us all and, as a not-for-profit organisation, essential for our core goals of conservation, research and education. In its centenary year Edinburgh Zoo continued its strong performance, even bucking the trend of a giant panda zoo in year two. The Highland Wildlife Park again set more records, with both the highest number of visitors coming to the Park in its 42 year history and a record number of births – with 54 new-borns from 21 different species arriving in 2013 alone.

The night also saw the return of the Honorary Fellows of RZSS, a lifetime award. We felt that now was the right time to reintroduce this award and to honour four individuals with our Fellowship. We were delighted to award:

Sir Gerald Elliot – His contribution via the Binks Trust has helped advance many areas of Scottish life. Together with his wife Lady Margaret Elliot (who is already an Honorary Fellow of the Society), the Binks Trust is a long term supporter of our Society and the work we do.

Christine & Ewan Brown – The Browns are major supporters of the Society and the work we do. They have shown their generous support over many years, in good times and less good times, and are both Patrons of the Society and Panda Bond Holders.

Robert Ollason – A former Head of Education for the Society, Rob is already the proud recipient of an MBE. Under his guidance from 1977, the education programme at Edinburgh Zoo evolved and we were actually the first zoo to employ qualified teachers.

On other subjects, we are delighted to be part of BIAZA’s Love Your Zoo Week. From Sunday 25 May, RZSS will release a series of behind the scenes videos that focus on our ongoing charitable conservation work. Six videos in total will be released each day until Friday 30 May, with each video showing a different project the Society is involved in. Footage will include never before seen camera trap images from animal dens, interviews with keepers, scientists and field researchers and behind the scenes views of areas that are usually off show to visitors. All videos will be viewable via as well as the Edinburgh Zoo and Highland Wildlife Park YouTube channels and social media pages.

Earlier this week Edinburgh Zoo also welcomed Mr Pan Xinchun, Consul General for the People’s Republic of China, as part of an RZSS and Scotland China Education Network’s (SCEN) Global Classroom Day. The Global Classroom Day brought together 175 students from 13 schools across Scotland to learn about China and its history, culture, language and environment, and is just one of several RZSS/SCEN joint educational programmes aimed at developing stronger bonds between the two countries.

Photo by Pako Mera

Photo by Pako Mera

Finally, there is still time to book last minute tickets for the first of our award winning Edinburgh Zoo Nights on Friday 23 May. An evening of entertainment for adults only, Edinburgh Zoo Nights is an after-hours event where you get the rare opportunity to see what the animals get up to in the evening and enjoy a drink and a range of delicious street food.There is also a great variety of entertainment, including a silent disco, face painting and animal talks, plus a different combination of live music, street performers and comedy acts at each event. To book tickets or for more information, please visit


The old Lakota was wise.  He knew that man’s heart away from nature becomes hard; he knew that lack of respect for growing, living things soon led to lack of respect for humans too. 

~Chief Luther Standing Bear

Chief Executive’s Blog

May 9, 2014 § 1 Comment


Arktos by Alex Riddell

Arktos by Alex Riddell

Fans of Highland Wildlife Park’s polar bears, Walker and Arktos, can now watch the pair live via Polar Bear Cam. Due to the Park’s remote setting in the heart of Cairngorms National Park, the camera is powered by a solar panel and a mini wind turbine, and uses satellite broadband internet – the same technology that’s used by the military in isolated areas. The innovative use of this technology could actually lead to advances in wildlife research in some of the world’s most inaccessible and harshest areas, including Antarctica, as it can be run remotely using natural power sources and satellite internet. Currently, the camera focusses on the enclosure’s large pond, which means watchers will now be able to see Walker and Arktos splash and play. To begin with Polar Bear Cam will stream live from 9:30am to 2:30pm, with pre-recorded footage then replayed outside of live streaming hours. It can be watched via


Mishmi takin calves Arya (L), Khaleesi (R) by Alex Riddell

Still up at Highland Wildlife Park, keepers this week performed their first health check-up on the two Mishmi takin calves born last month to Cava and Rosie. The girls are in excellent health and integrating well within the herd. Cava and Rosie are both seasoned mothers and take very good care of their offspring, which the keepers have christened Khaleesi and Arya – it appears we have Game of Thrones fans in the animal department! Highland Wildlife Park has been home to Mishmi takin for six years, with the first calves born in 2008, and also manages the European breeding programme for the species. Currently there are seven members of the herd, including the two latest arrivals. Mating usually occurs around July and gestation lasts eight months, with females giving birth to a single young every one to two years.

In an update from our veterinary department, this week, Simon Girling, Head of Veterinary Services for RZSS, lectured for a day on diagnostic imaging of exotic pet, zoo and wildlife to delegates enrolled in the European School of Veterinary Practitioner Studies. He also lectured for a day on medicine and surgery of Squamata (scaled reptiles) to final year undergraduates at the Royal Veterinary College. Many RZSS staff members regularly speak at global conferences, as well as university lectures, which is an important exercise in sharing expertise and expanding our understanding of conservation, research and science.

Down at Edinburgh Zoo, we recently received a visit from Angela Constance, Cabinet Secretary for Training, Youth and Women’s Employment, who met with our new ZEST Certificate of Work Readiness students. The new ZEST work experience programme offers eight placements across both sites to young people aged 17 – 20 who are not in education, employment or training. It runs for a total of 10 weeks in a variety of departments including animals, discovery and learning, visitor services and works, and upon completion will provide the students with a Certificate of Work Readiness qualification to go towards future employment.

zn_bannerFinally, everything is coming together nicely for the first of 2014’s Edinburgh Zoo Nights on Friday 23 May, which is only two weeks away! The evening event is for adults only and is the perfect opportunity to explore the Zoo out of hours while enjoying Friday night drinks with friends or colleagues. We will have a whole new host of performers including fire throwers, comedians, musicians, plus many others, as well as street food, face painting and a silent disco. There are a limited number of tickets available for the night and more information can be found here.

In its broadest ecological context, economic development is the development of more intensive ways of exploiting the natural environment.
~Richard Wilkinson

Chief Executive’s Blog

May 2, 2014 § Leave a comment



Last night was a very special evening for RZSS, with Dr Jane Goodall talking to an audience of over 600 people at Edinburgh’s Assembly Hall. The event was a partnership between RZSS, the Jane Goodall Institute UK (JGI) and the University of Edinburgh, with all proceeds from the evening going towards the wonderful conservation work carried out by JGI UK.

Jane has been a very dear friend of mine for a number of years and it has been an absolute honour to have her visit RZSS and Edinburgh Zoo during her very busy 80th birthday celebrations. She is a real inspiration – at an age when most of us would be hoping to settle down she spends most of each year travelling the world to raise awareness about the work of JGI as well as encourage each person to do their part in preserving the planet for generations to come.

Her talk, titled ‘Jane Goodall: Reasons for Hope’ was the public launch of RZSS’s Tribal Elders: Words of Wisdom series, an ongoing series of events featuring some of the world’s most inspiring and innovative people on the planet. The series aims to rekindle the ancient tradition of oral storytelling between elders and younger generations, and will offer a unique platform to distil the wisdom of a lifetime. As the inaugural tribal elder, Jane passed the baton on to broadcaster and zoologist Aubrey Manning, OBE, who will be the second Tribal Elder featured in the series, on Thursday 23 October 2014.

In an exciting conservation update, Glen Rosa, one of Highland Wildlife Park’s European bison this week arrived in Romania as part of a coordinated reintroduction project. Led by the Aspinall Foundation, seven female bison from the UK and Northern Ireland were selected for release into the Vanatori Neamt Nature Park, where they will help augment numbers and genetic diversity within an already established group of reintroduced bison. European bison had become extinct in the wild less than 100 years ago but thanks to the work of zoological organisations they are gradually making a comeback.

In other animal news, breeding season has begun this year with two Mishmi takin calves born recently at Highland Wildlife Park to kick things off. Both calves are female and fitting in well with the herd – they can be seen in the enclosure near the entrance to the parking lot. The first bison calf has also been born at the Park to Glen Farclas, bringing the total number of bison to 17. At Edinburgh Zoo the penguin nest site is abuzz with activity; the gentoos have now laid over 38 eggs! Their antics can be watched via Penguin Cam and this year we have included a handy diagram of the nest layout so you know how the keepers track their progress.

Finally, this Saturday 3 May, Scottish Opera will be coming to Edinburgh Zoo for two exclusive performances of ‘A Little Bit of Madama Butterfly’. The 20 minute performances are based on a form of Japanese storytelling and are brought to life by a storyteller, colourful illustrations, a singer and two instrumentalists. Occurring at the Education Centre at 11:30am and 1:30pm, the performances are free with Zoo entry.

For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled. ~Richard P. Feynman






Upcoming Event: Jane Goodall: Reasons for Hope

April 21, 2014 § Leave a comment

The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) is delighted to announce an evening with renowned researcher and trail-blazing conservationist Dr. Jane Goodall DBE, Founder, the Jane Goodall Institute & UN Messenger for Peace, on Thursday 1 May 2014 from 7pm at Edinburgh’s Assembly Hall.


© The Jane Goodall Institute / Chase Pickering

Jane Goodall: Reasons for Hope’ is Jane’s only public event in Scotland this year to celebrate her 80th birthday, and is a partnership between RZSS, the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) and the University of Edinburgh. All proceeds will go to benefit the Jane Goodall Institute UK’s conservation programmes in Africa, and to support more than a million active UK members of her Roots & Shoots initiative, the global humanitarian and environmental programme inspiring young people of all ages to help make the world a better place.

The event is the public launch of RZSS’s Tribal Elders: Words of Wisdom series, an ongoing series of events featuring some of the world’s most inspiring and innovative people on the planet. The series aims to rekindle the ancient tradition of oral storytelling between elders and younger generations, and will offer a unique platform to distil the wisdom of a lifetime. As the inaugural tribal elder, Jane will pass on the baton on to broadcaster and zoologist Aubrey Manning, OBE, who will be the second Tribal Elder featured in the series, on Thursday 23 October 2014.

As one of the most legendary conservationists of our time, Jane will share her most candid thoughts on the future of conservation, guidance on navigating the current threats the world faces, and above all, heartfelt reasons to maintain hope despite growing and often overwhelming odds.

The evening will also provide an opportunity to listen to Jane as she speaks about her lifetime of work with the Gombe chimpanzees, including highlights from some of her most unique experiences from the field. She will also discuss the future of chimpanzees in the wild and the threats they face from devastating habitat loss, as well as the battle against illegal wildlife trade in ivory and rhino horn.

Dr. Jane Goodall with Gombe chimpanzee Freud © Michael Neugebauer

Dr. Jane Goodall with Gombe chimpanzee Freud
© Michael Neugebauer

Jane’s work with the Gombe chimpanzees during the 1960s brought ground-breaking knowledge of the species and the close evolutionary and behavioural bonds shared between chimpanzees and humans. Her observations of watching chimpanzees use sticks to eat termites dispelled the belief that only humans create tools. She went on to found the Jane Goodall Institute UK in 1988 with the aim of working to conserve wild chimpanzees in the face of extensive habitat destruction.

Today, Jane continues her tireless work by spreading the message of the threats faced by chimpanzees as well as other environmental crises, urging her audiences to understand the importance of personal responsibility and how each individual can help make a difference.

Event Details: ‘Jane Goodall: Reasons for Hope’, Thursday 1 May 2014 7pm to 9pm at the University of Edinburgh New College, Assembly Hall, Edinburgh EH1 2LU. Tickets for the event are £15, £12 concession for RZSS Members, Edinburgh University Students and Roots & Shoots Members (prices inclusive of booking fee). Advance booking is strongly recommended. To book tickets please visit

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