May 23, 2014 § Leave a comment
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.
The 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 www.edinburghzoo.org.uk/lyz 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.
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 http://www.edinburghzoo.org.uk/events/2014/05/edinburgh-zoo-nights-may-23rd
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
May 9, 2014 § 1 Comment
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 http://www.highlandwildlifepark.org.uk/polar-bear-webcam
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.
Finally, 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. http://www.edinburghzoo.org.uk/events/2014/05/edinburgh-zoo-nights-may-23rd/
In its broadest ecological context, economic development is the development of more intensive ways of exploiting the natural environment.
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
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.
‘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.
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 http://www.edinburghzoo.org.uk/events/2014/05/jane-goodall-reasons-for-hope/.
April 18, 2014 § Leave a comment
It has been a whirlwind of a week at Edinburgh Zoo. Yesterday was the grand opening of our brand new meerkat enclosure, Meerkat Plaza, and I am delighted legendary Edinburgh author Alexander McCall Smith was present to officially open the enclosure. Alexander McCall Smith was born in Africa and is the author of the bestselling series No.1 Ladies Detective Agency, which is about Precious Ramotswe, Botswana’s first female detective, among many other novels. He has also written a series of children’s books, about Precious as a child, which feature meerkats. Due to his wealth of experience on Africa and its culture, it seemed only fitting to invite him as our guest of honour.
The enclosure itself is located on the site of our old sea lion pool and is now home to our group of 10 meerkats. A wide open and natural looking space, the enclosure features many rocky outcrops for meerkat lookouts and sand for digging, while 20 metres of glass panelling allows visitors to come face to face with some of the Zoo’s most charismatic residents. The renovation has also allowed us widen the front entrance area of the Zoo and create an orientation plaza for visitors, with improved signage, carved meerkat benches and space for both animal talks and animal handling experiences. Meerkat Plaza follows on from the renovation of Penguins Rock and Koala Territory and forms part of the ongoing plans for the renaissance of Edinburgh Zoo. I hope you will all be as delighted with the new enclosure as I am.
Our giant pandas Tian Tian and Yang Guang have also kept us on our toes with the arrival of their annual breeding window. On Sunday we were able to confirm Tian Tian had come into oestrus and introductions were attempted in the morning but proved to be unsuccessful. Although giant panda behaviour expert Dr Wang Chengdong from the China Conservation and Research Centre for Giant Pandas (CCRCGP) was confident later introduction attempts would be more successful, Tian Tian’s hormones were falling too rapidly for us to wait and so we moved straight onto artificial insemination on Sunday afternoon. Both fresh and frozen samples of Yang Guang’s semen were used and the two pandas were back on their feet shortly afterwards. As giant pandas experience pseudo pregnancies and delayed implantation, it is very likely we will not 100% know if Tian Tian is pregnant until she gives birth. This is usually August to September but can continue much later, as we saw last year.
As a conservation organisation, we believe giant pandas are too important a species to be allowed to become extinct. Although the breeding window is incredibly brief, pandas are in actual fact not poor breeders, they existed on the planet for many millennia before man intervened and deforestation caused the increasing fragmentation of populations. Our partnership with the China Wildlife Conservation Association (CWCA) allows RZSS to bring our skills in genetics and animal husbandry to assist in ensuring a genetically healthy and diverse population exists ex-situ, as well as in the wild. We are also in the position to aid a fellow conservation body financially.
Furthermore, if we can successfully assist Tian Tian and Yang Guang to breed, we will be adding to the total number of pandas in zoos around the world and in breeding centres in China. The more there are, the greater and more diverse the gene pool is from which pandas can be selected for re-introduction. In the last two years, a male and female panda have been re-introduced into the bamboo forest reserves in Sichuan Province. They are being closely monitored using tracking devices so we will know if they survive, mate and breed, either with wild pandas or each other. It’s a slow process but the experience gleaned from experts around the world in caring for pandas in captivity has shaped the form of release and hopefully over time, more will be suitable for re-introduction.
Finally, next Wednesday 23 April, RZSS is hosting a free public talk – ‘Living with Raptors’. Taking place from 6:30pm at the Budongo Lecture Theatre at Edinburgh Zoo, the talk explores the human and wildlife conflict issues surrounding raptor conservation and includes special guest speakers David Doxford, CEO of Falklands Conservation, Steve Redpath, Chair in Conservation Science for Aberdeen University and David Sexton, Scotland Mull Officer for RSPB. No reservation is necessary and for further information please email our events team via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Economic advance is not the same thing as human progress.
– John Clapham, A Concise Economic History of Britain, 1957
April 6, 2014 § Leave a comment
Spring has finally sprung at the Park and this is evident as the nest boxes that were created during our “Give Nature a Home” event with the RSPB in the October holidays now have a possible new resident – a common blue tit.
These little birds will nest in any hole in a tree, wall or nest box. They can also nest in more unusual places, such as letter boxes, pipes, etc. Hopefully we might see more birds using our nest boxes throughout the year.
Thanks to Jan Morse with her photography skills for catching our little visitor and to everyone who took part in the event.
March 7, 2014 § Leave a comment
Up at the Highland Wildlife Park, the wolverines Xale and Kirka are continuing to thrive in their new custom built enclosure and can usually be spotted charging around the 1.6 acres of hillside that it encompasses (as witnessed in this photograph, courtesy of Alex Riddell). We believe that this is the largest wolverine enclosure in Europe and quite possibly the world.
This week at Edinburgh Zoo we announced the birth of the Zoo’s first ever banteng calf, an excellent achievement as we have only held the animals for the past two years. The male, named Kala, is now four weeks old and doing very well. He can often be spotted cantering around in the large outdoor area of his enclosure, under the close watch of mother Leticia and father Tino. Although he is currently a beautiful golden colour like his mother, Kala (which means ‘black’) will gradually turn a very dark brown to match his father. Listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List, banteng are native to South East Asia, with hunting and habitat loss as the two biggest threats to the species. They are very close to becoming locally extinct in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. His birth is a positive step in helping towards the conservation of these endangered animals as well as educating visitors about their plight.
Also at the Zoo this week, nest rings and pebbles were placed in Penguins Rock for the annual gentoo breeding season. Visitors and staff alike were treated to the rather amusing spectacle of the birds all racing to the nest rings in an attempt to claim the best ones first – there was even a few flipper slap fights between two feisty females! There is a sense of ritualism in the mating behaviours of gentoo penguins, with males selecting their perfect pebble to present to their desired mate. The pebbles are then used to build nests within the rings and there is often a fair bit of pebble stealing between the birds. Sometimes the birds will return to the same mate year after year, or may select a new mate each season. It is also common to have same sex pairings – last year we had both a male only pairing and female only pairing. Snowflake, our leucistic gentoo, is very popular in particular! During mating season drama can break out at any time, with displays of courtship and affection, as well as jealously and aggression.
In an update from our conservation team, Arnaud Desbiez, Regional Coordinator for RZSS in Latin America, will be teaching a seminar at the ESCAS University in São Paulo Brazil on conservation decision making. Topics covered include conservation planning techniques, population viability analysis and how to apply and use the IUCN red listing criteria. Arnaud manages the Pantanal Giant Armadillo Project, which is the first long-term ecological study in the Brazilian Pantanal wetland.
Also on the topic of conservation, as part of celebrations for Fairtrade fortnight Edinburgh Zoo is holding Go Bananas for Fairtrade this Saturday 8th March from 11am until 3pm. The event will be held at the Budongo Trail where visitors will be able to watch our chimpanzees enjoy Fairtrade bananas kindly donated to us by Sainsbury’s Longstone as well as hear talks from two Nepalese Fairtrade producers about how they make handmade paper from waste materials such as banana fibre, straw and recycled paper. They will also talk about why Fairtrade is important, not only to local communities, but also for the environment. The event is being run in partnership with the Edinburgh City Fairtrade Group, and this year, Fairtrade fortnight is focusing on the difficulties faced by banana growers. Over the past 10 years, prices of bananas in the UK have halved, while the cost of production has doubled – by purchasing Fairtrade bananas you are helping to ensure farmers receive a fair price for their work.
And finally I must welcome to the RZSS team Adam Naylor, who is our new veterinary resident for the European College of Zoological Medicine (Zoo Health Management). Adam was originally an intern at Bristol Zoo and he will be trained for three years by Simon Girling, Head of Veterinary Services for RZSS.
There is a sufficiency in the world for man’s need but not for man’s greed.
Mohandas K. Gandhi
February 20, 2014 § 1 Comment
Here at Edinburgh Zoo we’ve been holding a Green Week this week. Visitors were able to take part in enrichment workshops and learn how to make enrichment devices for our animals. Animal enrichment is important as it helps to promote natural behaviours, such as problem solving or foraging, and helps to keep the animals engaged and entertained. Visitors have had the opportunity to learn about why this is so important and how it benefits the environment, whilst getting the chance to make their own enrichment device. They were then able to see their creation in action, with a keeper giving their toys to their chosen animal; here’s a photograph of one of our sun bears enjoying his:
Still at Edinburgh Zoo, I’ve got a lot of news from the bird team. The gentoo nest site at Penguins Rock has been undergoing a deep clean prior to the start of the annual breeding season. A new “nesting tree” has also been constructed by the gardens team and will hopefully be used by the scarlet ibis later on in the season. The Steller’s sea-eagles are using their new, improved nesting platform and the staff have been supplying the birds with branching to build their nest. Even though the female is too young to breed, the black stork pair in the enclosure next to the duck ponds have both been nest building on the platform created by the gardens staff, a really promising sign for the future. Last but not least, the male argus pheasant has been performing his spectacular courtship display quite frequently recently, but the female still appears fairly unimpressed! It’s still a little early in the year for the female to lay, so we may try splitting them off for a period to try to get them a bit more synchronised.
Out in Uganda, the Budongo Conservation Field Station (BCFS) has completed a pilot project aimed at assessing the challenges and opportunities for conservation of chimpanzees in an agricultural landscape. This degraded forest fragment, approximately 80m wide and 12km long, is surrounded by sugar cane fields and other agricultural crops. Over the past 15 months BCFS employed two field assistants who have been collecting data on the foraging and ranging pattern of the 32 chimpanzees in this forest fragment. Analysis of this data is in progress and we look forward to seeing the results, which I’m sure we can share with you.
To round off, I want to tell you about a lovely visit from Camstradden Primary School in Glasgow that’s taking place on Friday 21st February. As part of the build up to the Commonwealth Games, the school is bringing the Glasgow Schools Baton Relay to Penguins Rock. The Schools Baton Relay mirrors the countries visited by the Queen’s Baton, with over 70 schools and nurseries taking part. Each school is twinned with a particular country and receives the Schools Baton at the same time the Queen’s Baton arrives in their chosen country. Camstradden Primary School, which has been twinned with the Falkland Islands, decided to celebrate their turn carrying the Baton by bringing it to Edinburgh Zoo and learning about its gentoo, king and rockhopper penguins, all of which can be found in the Falklands; we’re delighted they thought of us!
“If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos”
~Edward O. Wilson