Chief Executive’s Blog

June 3, 2015 § Leave a comment

The pine hoverfly may be one of the more diminutive animals RZSS works with, but that hasn’t stopped us getting very excited about our ground-breaking pine hoverfly conservation project!


The pine hoverfly is the rarest species of hoverfly in Britain, currently recorded at just two sites in the whole of the UK, both of which are in Strathspey, Scotland. The species itself was formerly quite widespread – with populations being recorded regularly in Scotland up until the 1940s – but over recent decades numbers have declined dramatically and, in the late 1990s, surveys funded by Scottish Natural Heritage found only two remaining populations of the species.

As a result, the pine hoverfly was listed as endangered. The pine hoverfly is also declining in Europe and is considered to be under threat. Amongst other things, this decline can be traced back to a lack of appropriate habitat, as the pine hoverfly use rotting tree stumps as breeding sites, particularly stumps that are at least 40cm in diameter. The larvae develop and feed in wet rot-holes in the tree stumps and where the heartwood has been softened by the rot fungus Phaeolus schweinitzi. Unfortunately, these particular kinds of stumps are rather hard to come by. Ongoing monitoring has highlighted declining populations so the decision to pursue conservation breeding for release was taken.

Pine hoverfly larvae

Pine hoverfly larvae

We received some pine hoverfly larvae last week, which have been specifically collected from the wild in Finland to begin a captive breeding programme at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo. The Zoo’s Presentations Team will undertake the captive husbandry in specially built facilities behind the Budongo Trail. Ongoing monitoring for wild Scottish larvae will continue and, if sufficient numbers can be found, a captive Scottish population will also be created. If we are successful, larvae will be released into artificially created tree holes in woods in Speyside.

Meanwhile, over at our WildGenes Laboratory, RZSS Senior Lab Technician Jennifer Kaden is preparing a genomic library on the pygmy falcon as part of a project with San Diego Zoo and the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The birds are currently in Sweden and are destined for America; however, due to timings involving permits and quarantine, there will not be time for the genomic work (which will establish which birds are best paired together) to be carried out once the birds reach the USA. Instead, the data is going to be generated here and then sent to the USA in advance of the bird’s arrival. This is hopefully the first step in a fully integrated programme to coordinate genomic analysis between breeding programmes in the United States of America, Europe and Australia.

Up at RZSS Highland Wildlife Park we have had a flurry of new-borns. In the last few weeks we have had a Mishmi takin calf, two Przewalksi’s wild horse foals and two bison calves, as well as a few others which I will tell you more about in my next blog. We are really pleased with the births, especially the foal and bison calves as both species were considered extinct in the wild, but as a result of an effective breeding programme using captive populations of the species, both have been successfully re-introduced into the wild. The Przewalski’s wild horse was re-introduced into its native habitat in Mongolia in 1992, whilst the European bison can now be found in free-ranging and semi-free herds in Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, Romania and Slovakia. The IUCN has now reclassified the European bison and Przewalski’s wild horse from extinct in the wild to endangered.

Przewalksi’s wild horse foal by Alex Riddell

Przewalksi’s wild horse foal by Alex Riddell

A female bison which was born and raised at RZSS Highland Wildlife Park, Glen Rosa, was selected to be a part of the reintroduction project and was reintroduced into the wild on a forest reserve in Romania in April 2014. The re-introduction of these species is a brilliant conservation success story, one which highlights the importance of modern day zoos and the vital role they play in protecting animals from extinction.

“A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers but borrowed from his children.”

– John James Audubon

Highland Wildlife Blog – Wolf Pack Politics

May 22, 2015 § 1 Comment

by Douglas Richardson, Head of Living Collections, RZSS Highland Wildlife Park

On the same day that our new female polar bear arrived from Denmark, another important carnivore arrived. Jax, a two year old male European wolf, arrived from Jarv Zoo in Sweden to be paired with our female wolf, Ruby.

Most people think of wolves as quite social animals, which they are, but establishing a compatible wolf pack is far from straightforward, and if not done properly, the wolves can start to set-about each other with potentially fatal results. To enable Jax to be introduced to Ruby, all Ruby’s relatives had to be moved to other collections to create a suitably stable environment for the new pair to settle. The basis of every wolf pack is the alpha male and female, who are unrelated to each other, and their offspring. As they mature, some of the offspring will disperse out of the pack to find mates and start their own packs and sometimes older offspring are driven out if the home territory does not have enough prey to sustain the pack. In a captive situation, older offspring would be sent to other zoos to start new packs as space can become an issue, not food supply.


Ruby’s parents were introduced to each other in 2010 in what was our new wolf wood, opened by the Princess Royal in September of that year. In 2012 they reared their first litter of three males and two females, one of which was Ruby. In 2013 they reared a litter of two males and two females bringing the pack size up to 11. In 2014 Ruby’s mother became ill and had to be put to sleep, but when one of the alpha pair is lost, the whole pack structure can collapse into a snarling, fighting mass as the hierarchy is disrupted and the fights for dominance begin. A new park called Wild Place was looking for a single sex group of wolves and so we sent them all the males to reduce the aggravation in our group and avoid any mating between relatives. This left us with the four young females. Three other zoos in the UK were looking to add European wolves into their collections, so the coordinated plan was for us to send Ruby’s three sisters south to be joined by young males from continental zoos. Four male wolves were imported, with one, Jax, coming north to us, to start a new Highland Wildlife Park wolf dynasty.

After 24 hours in the adjacent off-exhibit enclosure and a suitable amount of observed interest from both wolves, the separating door was opened and the new pair was together. Initially Jax spent his time checking out the main enclosure whilst Ruby watched him closely. Because this new pack is just one male and one female in a large complex enclosure, there is no competition with others of the same sex and there is plenty of room to avoid confrontation. After a few weeks, all the signs indicate that we have a new bonded pair, and with some luck the next litter of wolf pups will be born one year from now.

This piece was first published in the Strathspey & Badenoch Herald

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

Highland Wildlife Blog – Wildcat facts and fiction

April 29, 2015 § Leave a comment

By Douglas Richardson, Head of Living Collections, RZSS Highland Wildlife Park

The Captive Animal Protection Society (CAPS), with the help of a couple of their allies, recently managed to get a not inconsiderable number of column inches in various newspapers and internet news sites, including our own Strathspey and Badenoch Herald. As presented, it was a story that needed to be reported and it certainly showed Highland Wildlife Park and its parent organisation, the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) in a very negative light.

The main thrust of their outrage was the Scottish Wildcat Conservation Action Plan’s, of which over 20 conservation organisations are a part, secret plot to capture wildcats and bring them into zoos to enhance our profits under the guise of saving the species.

First, the Action Plan has been available to all on the SNH’s website since the formal launch in September 2013. It clearly states that part of the plan is to develop a captive programme, including the likely need for bringing in more cats to ensure the sustainability of the captive population which is to act as both a safety net against extinction and as a source of cats for future release, once areas have been cleared of ferals and cross-bred wildcat/domestic cats; it is important to note that the majority of the Plan is focused upon conservation efforts in the field, including in Strathspey.


What I found most galling was the spurious claim that removing genetically good wildcats from the wild would accelerate their extinction. This completely ignores the fact that the reason for the wildcat’s plight is due to them being genetically swamped by feral domestics and the hybrids that ensue from cross-breeding. If we leave wildcats in these high risk environments, they will most certainly disappear. As for RZSS trying to line its pockets: any cats that are brought in from the wild and incorporated into the captive programme will be kept in large, natural, off-exhibit enclosures, invisible to our visitors. Our commitment to the species will cost us money.

In North Carolina there is a growing population of over 100 red wolves. The red wolf was persecuted by humans, not unlike the wildcat was, and the expanding coyote population began to hybridise with the wolves, again like our situation with the wildcat. The species became extinct as a wild animal in 1980. Luckily a captive programme was initiated in 1969 using a combination of the few individuals in zoos and the selective capture of some of the last pure individuals. In 1987, the first pair of captive-bred wolves were released into North Carolina.

Is it better to conserve a species in the wild? Of course it is, but if the cause of the species’ rarity is affecting all the remaining wild populations and we have the skills to manage the species in captivity until the cause of their rarity is brought under control, we would be neglecting our responsibility if we did not use all the conservation tools at our disposal.

This piece was first published in the Strathspey & Badenoch Herald

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

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

Chief Executive’s Blog

November 21, 2014 § Leave a comment


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:

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

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